Lobbyists: wage rises challenging

Otago-Southland Employers Association solicitor Stu Adamson, Business New Zealand employment...
Otago-Southland Employers Association solicitor Stu Adamson, Business New Zealand employment relations manager Paul Mackay and OSEA senior solicitor David Browne. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Some employers in Otago and Southland have told business lobbyists the current Government is changing employment legislation too quickly for them to keep up with.

The message has been put to Otago Southland Employers Association (OSEA) solicitors Stu Adamson and David Browne, who have been on an "Employment Relations Roadshow" in the region.

They were joined for their Dunedin briefing last Thursday by Wellington-based Business New Zealand employment relations manager Paul Mackay.

For Mr Mackay, visiting the region was a chance to find out how businesses felt in election year and relay that information to his contacts in Wellington.

"It’s gold for us, because my day-to-day life is talking to politicians and officials and ultimately you can get a little bit remote for what reality is for businesses out in the regions.

"If you go out in to Cromwell or places like that there are people dealing with things that people in Wellington would never see.

"Getting a feel for the reality of life is a huge part of making sure that we not only fact check what we’re saying but also we can give life to the argument, whatever business lobby we’re putting forward in Wellington, we can give life to it."

The OSEA is one of four member associations which make up Business NZ, along with the Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch employers’ associations.

Mr Mackay said a strong relationship between all of the associations and Business NZ was essential.

"Without any one of them it all falls apart.

"It’s easy to go and argue the economics ... giving life to it and making it feel like people are either happy or hurting is really what the lobby is about.

"The real life information that we absolutely need in convincing Government to do good things for business is the ammunition that is created here."

The key issues businesses brought up when talking to Mr Browne and Mr Adamson on the roadshow included work visa policies, the minimum wage and proposed changes to rules around independent contractors.

"Since 2016 through to 2019, mid-last year, there was a very large amount of legislative change," Mr Adamson said.

"Employers are still coming to grips with that and reacting to it and we are now looking at probably two, two and a-half years of very broad sweeping policy that will continue that uncertainty.

"It’s not so much a party divide. It’s just that environment of change."

The increase of the minimum wage to $18.90 in April was a policy that would hurt Otago and Southland employers that were typically "small and long-standing businesses," Mr Mackay said.

"If you think of small businesses that are generally operating on quite tight margins, a 1% to 2% pay increase per year is probably achievable for most of them.

"When the Government says ‘you have got to pay 6% plus for the next three years to your workers’ the question then becomes 'how do I accommodate that cost and keep the business going?'"

Mr Mackay gave an anecdote about a restaurant near South Dunedin.

"Mum and dad own the place and they have five or six kids that work evenings and weekends and whatever else.

"They said ‘we’ll manage because myself and my wife will keep going, we’ll work longer hours and we’ll pay the kids new rates but we’ll cut their hours because we won’t be able to afford the cash aspect of it’.

"What’s going to happen is the kids will be paid at a higher rate but they’ll take less home."

He said smaller employers would have to make hard decisions like that because of the increases in minimum wage.

jacob.mcsweeny@odt.co.nz

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