Raise the Bar: Everything you need to know about the wage subsidy

Right now low waged and insecure workers are feeling the economic brunt of the looming #Covid19 Recession. In response legal advocate Toby Cooper* and hospitality and worker’s rights advocate Chloe Ann-King, are putting together a series of legal blogs about your employment rights:

In this legal blog we outline some of the employer obligations in relation to the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme and provide an update on the latest advice and proposed changes to the Scheme as of Friday 27 March 2020:

All over Aotearoa, employers have fired workers’ at will, proposed redundancies, or forced employee’s to take annual leave during the lockdown which is causing serious economic hardship for many workers. Newsflash: Your employer can’t just fire you or make you redundant during this time! They MUST exhaust all avenues such as applying for the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme before making you redundant or firing you. If  your employer does not exhaust all avenues, you are likely in a good position to file with the Employment Relations Authority and bring a Personal Grievance proceedings against your employer for unfair dismissal and unfair disadvantage.

Your employer CANNOT force you to use up your annual leave / 8% holiday pay instead of paying you the wage subsidy. If they do this, they are breaching the Holidays Act 2003 and your basic employment entitlements. Employment law advocate Ashleigh Fechney told RNZ:

‘Absolutely not. Annual leave has to be taken by agreement. She said some contracts may contain clauses which say people can be asked to go on leave if they have large balances, but this also has to be done with reasonable warning and some discussion.’

Your employer must also make reasonable endeavours to keep paying you, including negotiating in good faith if they can only pay 80% of your wages. 80% of your normal wages is the lowest amount they should be paying you. They are obligated to pay you 100% of your wages if they are able to do so. 

Whatever your normal wages, you ought to be receiving at least the full value of the wage subsidy. 

The subsidy is $585.80 per week for a full time employee (20 hrs or more) or $350.00 per week for a part time employee (less than 20 hrs). Employers will receive a payment of $7,029.60 for a full time employee and $4,200 for a part time employee. This will be paid to employers in a single lump sum and should be passed onto their employees after tax is deducted, preferably as a single lump sum although could be distributed equally over the intended 12 week period.

At Raise the Bar, we are getting countless reports of employer’s withholding all or some of the wage subsidy which breaches the declaration they agreed to when they applied for the subsidy. If your employer is doing this, they open themselves up to the risk of prosecution for fraud. They would also likely have breached their legal duty of good faith. Employees could have a claim for arrears of wages as per the Employment Relations Act 2000. Please email us at raisethebarcampaign@gmail.com if you’d like us to report your employer on your behalf.

Now, onto the updates about the wage subsidy following the Friday 27 March 2020 Prime Ministerial Press Conference: 

– The 14-day self-isolation sick leave scheme is being folded into the Wage Subsidy scheme to prevent employers from double dipping.

– A separate sick leave provision scheme will be set up soon for essential workers who cannot work, especially those workers over 70 or who have health conditions. The Government has expressed that these workers should not be expected to leave their homes for work during the lockdown. 

– Employees ought to be receiving at least 80% of their normal wages. However, all workers must receive AT LEAST the full value of the subsidy from their employer.

– The Government has confirmed that employees should not be compelled to use their leave instead of using the subsidy.

– Employers cannot fire or make redundant any employees while they are receiving the scheme.

– Employers’ names who are receiving the Scheme will soon be made public.

– The Government wants to hear from anyone who believes their employer is receiving the Wage Subsidy but not passing this on to their staff. 

-Work and Income has also recently advised that employers can apply for their casual workers to receive the wage subsidy. 


 

If you would like further support please get in touch with Raise the Bar:

E: raisethebarcampaign@gmail.com

FB: @raisethebarnz and we have also set up a hospo support group on FB, Aotearoa Hospitality Workers’ Helping Each Other Through Covid-19

*Chloe Ann-King, is a noted workers and welfare rights advocate and activist who founded Raise the Bar: your hospo campaign, in 2016. She has also written extensively about the impacts of low waged and precarious work in Aotearoa and around the world. Previously she volunteered extensively with Unions in both Aotearoa and Australia and last year she studied for a Post Grad Cert in Human Rights, which expanded her legal knowledge.

*Toby Cooper is legally trained and has previously worked as an employment lawyer in one of Aotearoa’s top boutique employment firms. He’s currently volunteering at Community Law and with Raise the Bar, and has a passion for supporting low waged workers by empowering them with legal knowledge and understanding.


If you would like to support Raise the Bar, you can donate via:

  • PayPal: king.chloe@gmail.com (we are working on setting up a Raise the Bar PayPal asap)
  • Patreon
  • Direct Bank Account: MISS C A KING, 12-3040-0580277-01

All donations go towards maintaining Raise the Bar, we are also hoping to set up funds for hospo workers who need a koha for food, rent and other necessities.

Please get in touch for specific advice.

 

Raise the Bar: 10 questions to ask your employer proposing redundancy

Kia ora my name is Chloe Ann-King* and I am the founder of Raise the Bar, a campaign and non-profit that gives free legal aid, advocacy and tautoko to hospitality workers in Aotearoa. Right now all over our country hospo workers are being fired at will, having shifts cut or being made redundant because of Covid-19 and the looming recession. In response I and Raise the Bar’s legal advocate Toby Cooper, are putting together a series of legal blogs about your employment rights as hospo workers. However these blogs can be used by any worker in any industry. Toby has written our second one: 

1) What is the timeframe to provide feedback to your proposal?

2) What are the specific business reasons underlying this particular proposal? 3) Can you please provide me with the financial records and budget information which you are relying on? 4) Do you qualify for the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme? If so, how does this affect the business’ financial position?

5) Have you considered other options, such as redeployment, reduced hours (including reducing hours for all staff, which could minimise the number of staff needing to be made redundant), paid or unpaid leave?

6) Have you considered other changes to the business model in order to improve the business’ financial position, such as a shift to food delivery?

7) If several people all have the same job title: Why are the others not being made redundant, especially since I have more expertise than my colleagues / I have worked here longer / I work more hours each week?

8) Have you considered other options, such as redeployment, reduced hours (including reducing hours for all staff, which could minimise the number of staff needing to be made redundant), reduced hourly rates (which again could include other staff) paid or unpaid leave? Have you explored opportunities for up-skilling or training staff into new areas in order to minimise redundancies? Have you explored opportunities for up-skilling or training staff into new areas in order to minimise redundancies?

9) Are you willing to provide me with any financial support, outplacement (i.e.: training for future jobs the employee could have elsewhere), or a written and verbal employment reference to help me into future work?

10) Can I be paid out my notice period (and any entitlement to redundancy compensation – check your contract!) so that I can focus on finding other work?

Here is some extra information if you were working out your notice and then your employer made you redundant:

Let’s say an employee was made redundant a week ago and is now either working out their two week notice period or being paid out their two week notice. If they are still within their contractual notice period, which they would be, I would argue that since they are still technically employees of the business, their employer should retract the decision to make them redundant and should instead seek to access the Wage Subsidy on their behalf.

The priority is that employees need to get onto the phone with their employers now and protect their employmentFor anyone already made redundant, there’s no harm in them reaching out to their former employer and asking about pay.

If you would like further support please get in touch with Raise the Bar:

E: raisethebarcampaign@gmail.com

FB: @raisethebarnz and we have also set up a hospo support group on FB, Aotearoa Hospitality Workers’ Helping Each Other Through Covid-19

*Chloe Ann-King, is a noted workers and welfare rights advocate and activist who founded Raise the Bar: your hospo campaign, in 2016. She has also written extensively about the impacts of low waged and precarious work in Aotearoa and around the world. Previously she volunteered extensively with Unions in both Aotearoa and Australia and last year she studied for a Post Grad Cert in Human Rights, which expanded her legal knowledge.

*Toby Cooper is legally trained and has previously worked as an employment lawyer in one of Aotearoa’s top boutique employment firms. He’s currently volunteering at Community Law and with Raise the Bar, and has a passion for supporting low waged workers by empowering them with legal knowledge and understanding.


If you would like to support Raise the Bar, you can donate via:

  • PayPal: king.chloe@gmail.com (we are working on setting up a Raise the Bar PayPal asap)
  • Patreon
  • Direct Bank Account: MISS C A KING, 12-3040-0580277-01

All donations go towards maintaining Raise the Bar, we are also hoping to set up funds for hospo workers who need a koha for food, rent and other necessities.

Raise the Bar: hospitality workers & wage subsidy entitlements

Kia ora my name is Chloe Ann-King* and I am the founder of Raise the Bar, a campaign and non-profit that gives free legal aid, advocacy and tautoko to hospitality workers in Aotearoa. Right now all over our country hospo workers are being fired at will, having shifts cut or being made redundant because of Covid-19 and the looming recession. In response I and Raise the Bar’s legal advocate Toby Cooper, are putting together a series of legal blogs about your employment rights as hospo workers. However these blogs can be used by any worker in any industry. Toby has written our first one: 

All restaurants, bars, and cafes will close within the next 48 hours. This includes takeaway services. In 48 hours time, NZ will be at Level 4 for the next 4 weeks.

The $150,000 maximum on the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy package has now been removed. This means that, for the next 12 weeks, any employer that can show a 30% loss in business will be entitled to receive payments for every single employee for the next 12 weeks. This means that no employees should be made redundant (unless their employer does not meet that 30% loss threshold). Any business entitled to the Wage Subsidy package will be able to keep on all its employees for the next 12 weeks (although these employees may receive slightly less than usual but should be receiving at least 80% of their regular pay in total).

If your business is entitled to this but you are being made redundant, the first thing to do is to urgently contact your employer to try and sort things out directly. You may have legal grounds for a personal grievance claim if you are dismissed by an employer entitled to this package, but would need to complain in writing to the employer within 90 days of redundancy.

Let’s say an employee was made redundant a week ago and is now either working out their two week notice period or being paid out their two week notice. If they are still within their contractual notice period, which they would be, I would argue that since they are still technically employees of the business, their employer should retract the decision to make them redundant and should instead seek to access the Wage Subsidy on their behalf. If an employee’s notice period has expired, then they are unfortunately not helped here.

If you would like further support, please get in touch with Raise the Bar:

E: raisethebarcampaign@gmail.com

FB: @raisethebarnz and we have also set up a hospo support group on FB, Aotearoa Hospitality Workers’ Helping Each Other Through Covid-19

*Chloe Ann-King, is a noted workers and welfare rights advocate and activist who founded Raise the Bar: your hospo campaign, in 2016. She has also written extensively about the impacts of low waged and precarious work in Aotearoa and around the world. Previously she volunteered extensively with Unions in both Aotearoa and Australia and last year she studied for a Post Grad Cert in Human Rights, which expanded her legal knowledge.

*Toby Cooper is legally trained and has previously worked as an employment lawyer in one of Aotearoa’s top boutique employment firms. He’s currently volunteering at Community Law and with Raise the Bar, and has a passion for supporting low waged workers by empowering them with legal knowledge and understanding.


If you would like to support Raise the Bar, you can donate via:

  • PayPal: king.chloe@gmail.com (we are working on setting up a Raise the Bar PayPal asap)
  • Patreon
  • Direct Bank Account: MISS C A KING, 12-3040-0580277-01

All donations go towards maintaining Raise the Bar, we are also hoping to set up funds for hospo workers who need a koha for food, rent and other necessities.

 

 

I just had my benefit suspended during a fucking pandemic

I am a member of the working poor and so still need state welfare to make rent. So I had booked an appointment for yesterday with my caseworker at Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) to apply for a transition to work grant. However the current health advice in New Zealand around coronavirus (COVID-19) caused me to skip the appointment, and follow all the instructions to avoid public transport and crowds. This is because my current work at a bar puts me at higher risk of contracting coronavirus because I am constantly serving people and surrounded by crowds of customers. I often have to touch customers when I am running food and picking up glasses, so I am constantly having to go against official health advice about CoronaVirus. I have been trying my best to avoid any other situations where I will be near or in crowds to both reduce my chances of either becoming a carrier, or transmitting the virus if I already am. I figured that given the appointment was not mandatory, because it had absolutely nothing to do with my ‘looking for work obligations’, my caseworker wouldn’t be so heartless as to cut me off. 

HOW. WRONG. I. WAS.

I woke up today with a feeling of dread. I thought my caseworker might have sanctioned my benefit by half (which usually happens when you miss one appointment). But it was worse than I thought. She went full-blown authoritarian asshole, and completely suspended it. I called her twice, and emailed – no answer. She finally responded, saying she suspended my benefit because I had a job and she didn’t want me to get into more debt if WINZ overpaid me. In 15 years of being on and off welfare, this has never been standard WINZ policy in my experience. I previously reported my wages weekly and my benefit gets adjusted against the index, and I’ve never had my benefit suspended before when I’ve landed a job. Considering my caseworkers know’s the job is casual and less than 30 hours a week, suspending my benefit makes no sense. She didn’t even send me an email to tell me she had decided the best course of action during this time would be to suspend my benefit. During a worldwide pandemic. That has killed thousands. And is causing our next financial crash.

The vast majority of low waged and precarious workers like me, haven’t recovered from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and we still feel the consequences to this day. I can’t even bear to think about the fresh hell this pandemic and following economic crisis is gonna be like for workers like me. We will be fired at will, or have our shifts cut by employers who don’t give any shits about our personal and economic well-being during the best of times. 

The reality is that WINZ and their caseworkers still expect people to come in for appointments (including the immuno-compromised). If people don’t attend they risk having sanctions applied that cut or completely suspend their benefits. Exactly like what has happened to me. It’s vital to point out that many people on welfare have serious and life threatening illnesses which include cancer, Crohn’s, asthma and other respiratory problems… I could go on. For these people during the coronavirus pandemic, WINZ appointments could literally be a game of Russian roulette but WINZ logic only offers them the choice of attending appointments or starving.

Our coalition government said they would take swift, decisive and compassionate action in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Our government has, in many ways, delivered on that promise because today they announced a rescue package in response to CoronaVirus. It’s the biggest stimulus package announced globally, so far. But some of the package is based on trickle-down economics in my humble opinion. The lion’s share of the $12.1 billion rescue package is going to business owners who will take a cut of $8.7 billion. I guess the magic thinking is that somehow the money will trickle down into pockets of workers like me. 

When in the fuck has that ever happened? Never. That’s when. 

We’ll have to wait and see if the package reduces the rates of job loss and cut shifts in precarious industries such as hospitality and helps get us back to normal when the time comes. Thing is my ‘normal’ is employers paying me fuck all while offering me no guarantee of hours or a job one week til the next. My ‘normal’ sucks. Money has also been set aside for people on welfare but that extra cash ($25 a week) means piss all to people like me who get their benefits suspended for absolutely no real reason. It also took a pandemic for the government to increase core benefits to the bare minimum. I know I sound cynical but I feel this way for a reason. I barely survived the last financial crash. I don’t know how I’ll survive another one. I’m exhausted.  

Our systems are set up to punish poor people, and they continue to do so even during a pandemic. We should always be showing each other aroha, compassion, and solidarity but ESPECIALLY in times like these. We need to be better than this.

 


Kia ora my Name is Chloe Ann-King and I am a noted writer and workers rights advocate who fights for the rights of hospitality workers and people on welfare. All the mahi I undertake is volunteer and mostly unpaid. If you’d like to support my mahi/learn more about who I am and what I do please check out my patreon and twitter or you can directly donate to me via Paypal: king.chloe@gmail.com or bank account: Miss C A KING 12-3040-0580277-01

How to avoid being a cunt to hospo workers’

Working hospo is hard mahi for many reasons, from long hours and gruelling high-volume weekends to customers who treat us as their servants. There are always lovely and polite customers who treat hospo workers with respect and kindness but, throughout my 15-years in the biz, I’ve collected a number of pet peeves related to repeat shitty behaviour from customers. Here are my top five things customers need to stop doing:

  1. Don’t order a difficult cocktail or large drinks order and then come up to the bartender two minutes later demanding your drink(s).

Making a decent cocktail takes time, especially labor-intensive cocktails such as espresso martinis and other drinks that need to be shaken well. As someone who really likes classic cocktails such as the old fashioned; if I order one and the drink lands at my table in record time my heart instantly sinks because I know they haven’t made it correctly. Good things take time and customers should know this. The same goes for big drink orders too. We can’t smash that shit out in a minute or two because we aren’t the god damned Flash. Cool your tits and have some patience.

Bonus tip: look around and see how busy the bar or restaurant is, and how many staff are on. If your drinks are taking extra-long, it’s likely because the venue is understaffed, and your bartender is doing their best under stressful circumstances.

  1. Don’t put your hands on our bodies without permission.

 I’ve honestly lost count of how many times I’ve been groped, harassed and out right assaulted by customers. Please, when you enter a venue, no matter how drunk or how many times you’ve been to that venue, don’t touch the staff. You can still ask for permission first, but this isn’t rocket science.

Regular customers, almost always white men, are particularly bad for these kinds of behavior. They open their arms in front of female staff expecting to be hugged like your pervy uncle at the family Christmas dinner. So, memo to our regulars: I really don’t want to hug you so you can cop a free feel.

Many male presenting hospo workers have also told me about women grabbing their asses or penises, and making objectifying, crass and harassing comments. Stop. Just stop. This is sexual assault. 

  1. Don’t treat us like your pet dog.

Clicking your fingers at us won’t get us to perform tricks for your entitled ass. A customer clicking their fingers at bar staff to get our attention is really demeaning and I’m more likely to ignore you than serve you. Or customers who snap out a drink order without making eye contact, acknowledging we are there, and never say “please” or “thank you”. Businessmen in suits were the worst for this behavior; they’d flick money at me bark their order and then go back to talking with their minga mate.

Memo: I fucking hate this with the heat of a million burning suns.

  1. Don’t whinge at us to change the prices we don’t set (and no discounts, ya dick)

Upmarket bars have prices that reflect the socio-economic status of the suburb the venue is in, and whenever I’ve been working there has always been someone paying with a platinum credit card losing their shit over a $12 house wine. I understand, I too think that price is a fucking rip off. I wouldn’t pay that much for a house wine but I’m earning minimum wage and have no guaranteed hours next week so a $12 house wine would blow my budget. No matter how loudly you complain to us about the prices, there is sweet fuck all we can do about it because the boss sets the prices. So, please, go and whinge at them because I don’t have the time or energy to deal with your shit.

  1. Don’t act like we won’t remember your drink order.

I cannot stress how annoying it is when a customer comes up to the bar and gives me one drink order at a time when they have five or so. Watching paint dry would be less frustrating. If you have 5 drinks to order then, please, for the love of god order them in one go. This will save us both a lot of fucking time.

Most experienced hospo workers can roll out large drink orders, so just give us the list and we will tell you to slow down if we need. We can multi-skill like nothing you have seen before. I have been known to hold two glasses in one hand, while making a drink at the bar, and then make the other drinks in my other hand. Often while still taking drink orders.

We know what we are doing.

When I was working in night clubs, we charged the drunk, rude, and entitled customers an ‘Asshole Tax’. They would be overcharged and then that money went directly into the tip jar.

Want to avoid being taxed for being an asshole? Then respect the hard work of hospo workers, because our jobs are difficult, stressful, and highly skilled. We deserve your respect and admiration for the skills and intense emotional labour we perform every single shift.

Wage theft – I’m fucking over it.

Today, a worker contacted me asking if she could go to the police over her employer stealing thousands of dollars from her in unpaid wages. The employer also did not pay this worker’s taxes or student loan which amounts to tax fraud. As a workers rights activist, who founded the hospo campaign called Raise the Bar, the number one issue that workers contact me about is wage theft. Email after email gets sent to me weekly from workers stating that their boss has stolen from them, and I am often asked if they can report it to the police. The very short answer is: No.

Currently wage theft isn’t a criminal offence in Aotearoa and the most these employers will get is a fine for such theft. This means an employer can steal thousands, tens of thousands or even millions from their workers, and they won’t see a day in jail.

Every time I tell a worker that going to the Po Po over wage theft will do nothing, the general response I get is: WHAT. THE. FUCK. Mostly, they express absolute disbelief that employers can steal as much as they want from their workers, and face almost zero consequences. In fact, employers in low waged industries such as hospitality have even expressed exploitation of their workers is worth the risk because the fines are so low. Let that sink in…

I worked in hospo in both Australia and Aotearoa for over 15 years, and most employers stole from me and there was little I could do about it. Unions are mostly disinterested in hospo relating to this issue  and lodging a claim under the Employment Relations Act itself costs $60. At times in the past I didn’t even have enough money for food, let alone a filing fee to lodge a complaint. This is what wage theft looked like for me in the hospitality industry.

Breaks docked from my paycheck that I never took, underpayment of wages (an hour sliced here and there),  bosses just not paying me at all,  bosses withholding holiday pay and/or refusing to pay my IRD or student loan were all part of the norm. I,  like many, was already a low waged and insecure worker,  barely getting by, add wage theft into the mix and you just fall further and further below the poverty line.

In Australia, there has been a sustained effort by the digital union Hospo Voice to push the federal government to criminalise wage theft. Such backing by a union has emboldened and empowered hundreds of hospo workers to take to the streets and fight wage theft. They’ve been speaking out about horrendous examples of exploitation and wage theft in the industry, in the media every single day. One such example is the hospitality workers speaking out against celebrity chef Neil Perry’s Rockpool Hospitality Group. He and his group stole around 10 million dollars worth of wages over a sustained period of time from his employees. It is one of the most egregious examples of wage theft in Australia, ever reported.

Here in Aotearoa, unions such as First Union, have gotten some much needed attention on wage theft in industries such as retail and in supermarkets. However, we are still a long way from any politicians either from the right or left-wing seeing wage theft as a policy or even a political issue. I’m yet to see even one politician in Aotearoa express any real concern over wage theft. Bleak.

There are many hidden costs to wage theft that our media here in Aotearoa and politicians rarely talk about. Here are some of them:

First up, it disadvantages some of our lowest earning workers, in insecure industries such as hospitality. Low waged workers are disproportionately represented by Māori, Asian wahine, Pasifika people and Pakeha wahine. We have politicians talking about our poverty crisis, but rarely do they connect wage theft to this crisis which seems like a massive oversight. We know that wage theft is at the very least costing workers $36 million dollars a year as Stuff Media recently reported, and this is still an incredibly conservative estimate. Something needs to be done about it at a political,  policy and legislative level.

Secondly, the fact that wage theft isn’t a criminal offence in Aotearoa, is clearly an example of sanctioning white collar crime. Meanwhile, we continue to lock up Maori disproportionality for things like selling or possessing cannabis – a drug that does the least harm compared to every other fucking illicit drug on the planet.

Racism and classism is deeply rooted in our employment laws at a structural level and we need to talk about it.

From Australia to Aotearoa wage theft has become a culturally accepted part of business and it is costing workers millions of dollars, yet, I’ve rarely heard a politician from our “left wing” coalition Labour government mention wage theft as an issue. It might be time to take our cues about this from across the ditch, even with a Liberal government in Australia, wage theft is being spoken about in parliament and there are calls for harsher penalties this is all thanks to the before mentioned efforts of Hospo Voice and hospo workers.

On that note I’d like to see some political leadership (even belatedly) stepping up with calls to criminalise wage theft in this country.  If workers can be criminally prosecuted for stealing $50 bucks from the till then employers should, certainly, be criminally prosecuted for stealing thousands and in some cases fucking millions from their workers.

Image credit: Hospo Voice. 

 


If you’d like to support the advocacy mahi (work) I undertake with Raise the Bar and in workers rights you can donate via these plaforms:

Paypal: king.chloe@gmail.com

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/rss?campaign=192006&auth=7c5b7cc7fe95f35e1f3506757585b704

Direct Bank Account (New Zealand/Aotearoa): MISS C A KING, 12-3040-0580277-51

 

 

One Billion Trees Programme set to become workers rights nightmare

I’ve been following the government’s One Billion Trees Programme since it was proposed in 2016, by co-leader of the Green Party, James Shaw. He pitched the programme as a tactic in mitigating climate change and assured us it would create meaningful, living wage jobs.

At first I was optimistically naive about the scheme. I wanted to believe in Shaw’s lofty words and considerable promises. But as a workers rights advocate and activist that optimism has faded and been replaced by deep concerns. Concerns that include how workers who plant the trees will be treated by agricultural employers and how they will be paid.

First up, the government has subcontracted these jobs out to agricultural employers who are notorious for underpaying workers and exploiting them (I’ve spoken out about this issue many times in the media). I spent most of last year traveling up and down Aotearoa, speaking with rural workers on farms, and picking fruit on orchards, who had horror story after horror story of exploitation, wage theft, and unsafe working conditions. Unless the government ensures labor inspectors check on the workers planting the trees on a weekly basis, these so called ‘amazing’ tree planting jobs will become hotbeds of exploitation — on the governments watch.

Moreover these tree planting jobs have no base rate, instead, workers will be paid at most 00.60cents per tree but the bottom rate sits at around 00.20cents. In other words, these tree planting jobs are piecemeal seasonal work which is great if you are just after a summer or winter gig to tide you over. But horrible if you are desperate for work and this is all you can find. Piecemeal wages are often presented by employers as if workers could maintain absolute peak efficiency over sustained hours. But maintaining peak efficiency isn’t sustainable for any human being. Unless, you happen to have newly acquired superpowers that mean you can relentlessly work in manual labor for 12-hrs solid without food or water.

The government has also offered ‘Direct Landowner Grants’ to farmers and landowners which ‘provide incentives and reduce the barriers to planting trees’. There are two types of grants farmers can apply for and the funds total $238million. But there are no grants offered to potential workers from lesser means who are considering taking tree planting jobs under this scheme. They will have to find the money and the means to upsticks and move to a rural location for 3-4 months without any form of governmental grant or support. When the planting season ends they will either have to scamper and find other low waged seasonal work, or pray they can find accomodation in the middle of a housing crisis and attempt to find a more permanent job in a casualised work economy.  

All of this is massively worrying. But what really kicked my concerns into overdrive was a recent Stuff Media article that ran with this title,

$400 a day to plant trees but no-one wants the job

BULLSHIT. This was misreporting at its finest and showcases exactly what I meant about employers presenting piecemeal work as a great deal while omitting the finer print. I spoke out about the article and why the governments tree planting scheme was going to become a workers rights nightmare. A few days later I was interviewed by a journalist at Stuff, and a new counter article ran:

Here’s why no-one wants to plant trees for $400 a day

I pointed out the following,

“To make the $400 a day you’d have to plant 83 trees an hour over an eight-hour work day, without taking a break, to make this kind of cash. I’ve spoken with seasoned tree-planters who say this would be nearly impossible as the work is back-breaking, especially in rugged terrain and varying temperatures and weather conditions.

They should pay a base living wage and then 30c or 60c per tree on top, I don’t think that’s asking too much.”

I’ve spoken to dozens of people who have worked tree planting jobs who said it would be nearly impossible to make $400 a day on piecemeal wages. One such worker had this to say,

“It would depend on the size of seedling planted and I can’t find that information anywhere. If they’re standard pb3 seedlings then I don’t think it’s possible to do 670 per day. We reckon 300 would be a commendable effort, and that would be back breaking.

And at 60c per tree thats $180, or $18 per hour for a 10 hour day which is my exact situation now without having to move to the sticks for seasonal work.”

Shortly after this article ran I was invited on the a RadioNZ Panel with Michelle Boag, to discuss my reservations over these tree planting jobs:

Too good to be true: why people don’t want seasonal jobs

Many commentators including Boag, believe these jobs are a great deal and that students and people who are unemployed should just take them, and shut up.  

But the reality is the government’s One Billion Trees Programme, seems driven by corporate profit, incentivising land owners, and relying on cheap labor. This is a far cry from what was initially promised; a scheme that would deliver meaningful living wage jobs and mitigate climate change and preserve our environment.