A few weeks ago Business New Zealand chief executive chief Phil O'Reilly was on TV1's Breakfast talking about the need for 'workplace flexibility' in these tough economic times.

O'Reilly never explained what he meant by 'flexibility' and TV1's resident market cheerleader Paul Henry never bothered to ask him.

But we all know its one of those code words that people like O'Reilly like to use instead of more unpalatable words like 'cuts' and 'casualisation' and 'reduced working conditions'.

Just a few days ago O'Reilly though made it more clear that he's no friend of New Zealand workers when he sternly warned the National-led government, that in these tough economic times, the last thing it should do is raise the minimum wage. O'Reilly, who is on an annual salary package of some $80,000, thinks workers should just be squeezed more as prices continue to rise.

As a certain VI Lenin once said - 'capitalists can survive any crisis as long as workers pay for it.'

The populist John Key though ignored O'Reilly and announced a token and pitiful increase of 50 cents an hour. It's a token gesture and not much more. About 120,000 workers will get the increase - don't spend it all at once, folks.

In fact, in real terms, its a cut because things like food, rents, power and transport have risen far faster than the Consumer price Index.

O'Reilly though continued his criticism, predictably warning that even this pathetic increase would put 'pressure' on employers and lead to more job losses.

What O'Reilly chose to ignore is that job losses are occurring, not because of increased wages, but because of the very same neoliberal economic policies he supports. In stark terms, the system is stuffed.

Meanwhile the Unite Union are pushing for an increase to $15 an hour.

The union, which represents many minimum-wage workers in fast food and other services, has lodged a request for a citizens-initiated referendum on whether the minimum should be raised to $15 an hour, and then to two-thirds of the average wage within three years.

1973 the Royal Commission on Social Policy said the minimum wage it should be raised to two-thirds of the average wage

O'Reilly has also had a go at this move, declaring that the call for a referendum was 'utterly ideological'.

Phil O'Reilly's comments and arguments though are entirely unbiased and un-ideological.

Meanwhile the Maori Party is publicly claiming it wants to see the minimum wage raised to $15 an hour but this appears to be more designed to assure Maori that it really is on their side.

Judging by the Minister of Labour's evasive response to questions in Parliament yesterday, it doesn't appear the Maori Party did a whole lot to promote the $15 cause within government. Kate Wilkinson refused to answer how many times she had met with the Maori Party to discuss a possible increase in the minimum wage. I'd bet 50 cents that they met zero times.

Lost in all this talk abut the minimum wage is the fact that benefit levels remain static. We can expect even more pressure on food banks in the coming months especially when we consider that Paula Bennett, the Minister of Social Development and Employment, let it slip yesterday that she had seen Treasury reports suggesting that unemployment could rise as much as 14 percent.


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