John Key, I am a low waged worker, and neither “lazy” nor “drug addled”

Prime Minister John Key is making international headlines for all the wrong reasons again. In a recent Radio New Zealand interview he shamed low waged workers, calling them, “drug addicts” and describing them as being “lazy.” Okay, I am one of the hundreds of thousands of low waged workers in this country and I feel devastated by his comments which further included stating we, the apparently lazy and low waged workers, also have no work ethic. Key is using these reasons to justify bringing in record numbers of migrant workers into New Zealand, to take up roles in work considered unskilled, such as fruit picking, hairdressing, labouring, baking, driving trucks, managing cafes, and working in hospitality. 

“[…] go and ask the employers, and they will say some of these people won’t pass a drug test, some of these people won’t turn up for work, some of these people will claim they have health issues later on,” Key told Radio New Zealand reporter Jesse Mulligan,

“So it’s not to say there aren’t great people who transition from Work and Income to work, they do, but it’s equally true that they’re also living in the wrong place, or they just can’t muster what is required to actually work.”

I want to be very clear here: I support immigrant workers. I embrace the diversity they bring to Aotearoa. I stand firm in solidarity with migrant workers for many reasons, the most important being that nearly always the migrant workforce is subject to low wages and exploitation, something of which I also have personal, plentiful, painful experience. What I do not embrace is John Key pitting workers like myself, already being paid poverty wages, against immigrant workers being exploited as cheap labour, all to further suppress wage growth and help his corporate mates get richer.

Most low waged workers who I know are some of the hardest working people you will ever meet. We undertake multiple jobs, which is hard, I promise you, and we have no choice other than to do this. There has been a major rise in the casualised and part-time economy, and full-time work is almost impossible to come by. We are left stitching multiple jobs together to make up full-time work. We give up our nights, days and weekends to pour your pints, flip your burgers, to serve food we can’t afford ourselves, and to clean your damn toilets. Yeah, you know all those jobs people don’t want to do? We do them. We work twice as hard as CEOs and workers considered “highly skilled,” for measly paychecks in high stress environments, and we endure the poverty shaming which comes with underappreciated low waged work. Being poor is to incur ridicule and constant put-downs from strangers, people we know, the mainstream media, and now, even our own political leaders.

Many of our most vulnerable and precarious workers, nearly always women, new migrants and people of colour, typically have no protections, no benefits and nowhere to turn. In part this is because consecutive governments have actively undermined and weakened unions through laws such as the 1991 Employment Contracts Act, which made it much harder for them to operate. This has restricted workers’ ability to negotiate pay and access the most basic of benefits like sick leave and holiday pay, and we are routinely denied breaks.

So, if we don’t work our fingers to the bone for ruthless employers, we get fired or our shifts get cut. This leaves us scrambling to find other work in a stagnant and flooded job market. In response we become desperate and therefore easier to coerce into accepting offers for pay below minimum wage and having to deal with workplace injustices like harassment and assault. I have PTSD from the number of times I have had guys attempt to assault me and feel me up on shift when working in nightclubs and late night bars. There is almost no direct course of action I can take over this as the hospitality sector is unregulated and has no real union representation. So, if I seem “lazy” or wasted on shift it is likely because I am feeling depressed and anxious in response to a demeaning and sometimes dangerous work environment.

It is important to note that, while Key calls low waged workers “drug addicts” and “drug addled” in his RNZ interview, he fails to mention that drug addiction is a symptom of poverty, and low wages combined with insecure work induces poverty.  Wanting to check out of this grinding reality is a perfectly normal, albeit harmful response to an absolute feeling of hopelessness and despair. Comments like Key’s, which shame an entire class of people, make me want to pick up a bottle of booze and down every last drop, until I can feel nothing but that warm numbness wash over me.

Honestly, this type of shaming of low waged workers like myself makes me cry. I’m serious. It hurts. It hurts because no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to secure even low paid and unskilled work for long periods of time. I am not alone in this struggle. It was Key’s government which introduced the 90 Day Trial law in 2009, which only serves to compound the rising issues associated with precarious and low waged work. The Waikato Times reported in 2013 thousands of workers had been sacked under this law (this is a conservative estimate) and many were simply told they “did not fit in.”

Five weeks ago, I was personally subject to the harder edge of the 90 Day Trial legislation when I was not offered an ongoing contract only five days out from the trial period end date. The reason? I was told that I did not “perform my duties as a receptionist up to standard.” I had worked incredibly hard for this company, having gone above and beyond my job description. I’d lost considerable amounts of weight during my time in this role as I had spent so much time running between the multiple levels of the building to clean, run coffee and tea, and undertake errands for other employees. I often felt stressed and overworked, during and after work hours. Still, I was told my hard work was not good enough. When is our hard work ever fucking good enough?

Being fired under this law was a major blow to my confidence and since then I have struggled to get out of bed. I feel depressed and hopeless and I am battling suicidal ideation daily; I don’t want to die but I cannot keep bouncing from one job to the next with no chance of economic stability or progression. My experience of insecurity has been ongoing for years and years, and no matter how hard I work I have little hope that my situation will ever change.

Yet John Key has the audacity to call those living in poverty because of low wages, bad luck and under/unemployment “lazy” and “drug addicts.” His rotten rhetoric blames us alone for our circumstances, when it is his government that further entrenches poverty into the lives of blue collar workers and the working class. It was his National party’s MP, Paula Bennett, who enacted sweeping welfare reforms and sanctions which made getting a benefit a humiliating experience, not to mention the measly state payout barely covers rent, let alone rapidly rising living costs.

When you rip gaping holes in social security nets such as welfare, those with lesser means are left to drown under the rising tide of inequality, structural unemployment, and underemployment. So many of us who are bodily abled or not, and mentally well or not, are left with no choice than to take any work, no matter how dangerous, precarious, and sub-human the wages. What sort of a choice is that?

Young people who are born poor or fall into poverty and downward mobility are denied a future, or at least any economic and personal well-being. This is not the kind of future anyone deserves, especially our young, and no-one should just accept it as a given.

No matter what John Key tells the masses, the problem with New Zealand’s work economy is not our being “lazy” or “drug addled” workers who lack “work ethic.” I’d call him a cunt for what he said about workers like me but he has neither the depth nor the warmth. The problem is low wages. The problem is a rise in a culture of precarious and casualised work which has created structural unemployment and job scarcity. The problem is the laziness, incompetence and widespread sociopathy of both right and nominally left wing governments who have failed, dismally, to protect those of us who were not born into wealth and privilege. The problem is that Key is a millionaire who has absolutely no idea about, nor care for, the daily struggles and injustices the working class and migrant workers endure every single day. Perhaps then, aside from finally starting to deal with any of these very real issues, at the very least, John Key should simply stop talking about us as if he knows us.

You can follow me on twitter

Versions of this essay where also published on:

Stuff Nation

The Standard

Unite Union 

Postscript:

Kia ora all! I am freelancing which means I have no secure income so, I rely on donations from the wider public to keep myself economically afloat. If you like what I have to say and want to support me, you can make a direct contribution via my bank account:

Name: MISS C A KING

Bank Details: 12-3040-0580277-01

Thanks very much for your aroha and time.


39 thoughts on “John Key, I am a low waged worker, and neither “lazy” nor “drug addled”

  1. Kia kaha Chloe.

    For the edification of readers, may I point out that precarity, casualisation of low-wage work, was creating extreme levels of stress back in the early 2000’s.
    I knew a lot of young people on campus who only survived due to kiting credit card limits from one providor to another during the month. There was no ‘financial buffer’ provided by working while studying, in fact it cost many students passes in some of their course load.

    Rents were not as high then, even in Auckland.
    I worked & studied in Wellington, with breaks just coasting on the DPB with my family to bring up, because it was debilitating my health.

    Women, of any age, have it worse under the current employment laws.
    90 days is used to churn workers so that full-time staff allowances can be dodged – no holiday, sick or bereavement leave for casual workers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I clicked through to the linked radionz article, and your quotes from key about him calling people “lazy”, “addicts” and “drug-addled” aren’t there? In fact, when I read what he actually said, it has nothing at all to do with whats written in this blog?

      He was saying that people are refusing to work and/or not being able to work in physical labour type jobs because they are using drugs.

      How on earth did you get from what he said to claiming he is attacking low wage workers????

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      1. perhaps listen to the interview instead of just reading the extracts RNZ posted. The international media is reporting that this is exactly what Key said, so Im pretty sure I have it right.

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    2. Yep, I completely agree I began my study in the early ninties and without a doubt casualisation more than existed back then, however it is getting worse and more grinding. Back in the early 2000’s wages where much more likly to meet rental and food costs and now you basically have no chance of your measly pay-check meeting spiraling living costs. Real wages have no risen in ten years…

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  2. Hi Chloe, dont give up the writing- things will happen. As a 50ish female who remembers when all workers were repected and valued Im appalled at how cruel emplotesr can be to the young and/or vulnerable. have donated xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That was very well written and really spot on with how I feel personally about it. I was born poor and I will likely die poor. No chance of ever being able to afford to go overseas, no chance to live in a house long term, no jobs for my personal skillset. What is one to do?
    Anywho, I would give you money if I had it. I hope people donate to you. So you can keep writing these great articles/essays.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You delivered that fantastically well. I would like to see it tatooed on Key’s back. I hope that everyone re-posts this and it goes viral around the country and the world. With that, this could be like the sex toy that hit Steven Joyce in the face. Well done and keep your chin up. Keep fighting and try to convince people to vote and get these bastards out of office. I highly suggest that you consider running for office and help to give people a voice. You express yourself well and you have the passion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kia ora

      Thanks so much for your kind words and for taking the time out to post a comment I really appreciate your kind words and hopefully I can continue to write on issues to do with precarious/low waged work. So one has to…

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  5. What the fuck does he know. My hubby works all hours for shit pay and fixing up the very thing that clown wants to bring these immigrants in. I want to quit working but we can’t. It’s our bread an butter and roof over our heads. Making it week by week. Shit Prime Minister shit way of thinking

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Chloe, I really liked your article. I’m sorry to hear of your struggle and completely agree with everything you’ve written. I put a small donation in your account, I’m sorry it’s not much but that’s all I could do.

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  7. I know you’re gonna smash me for any comments contrary to your views. You might even call me offensive names. I’m not here to demean what you do or throw stones. And absolutely would not deny how you feel about the world, yourself, and PTSD. I work with sufferers as well as many other struggling health and disability issues. However I really struggle with this constant poor me attitude and lack of responsiblity for your own predicament. Granted there are always elements beyond your control but we can always control what we do and how we behave. Instead of blaming ‘rich’ folk, how about focusing effort into what would improve your predicament. So you spent 5 years on education you’re not utilising? Sad as it may seem if you wanted to be a “have” and not a “have not”, why didn’t you do something that would have paid. Not saying you shouldn’t have done what you loved and followed your dream, more power to you, but it’s clearly not working for you. However it could? Lots of people do Arts degrees and make a pretty good living after. But you’re not using it and that’s other people’s fault? And I hate to remind you but most of the world started out in low paid demeaning jobs. I’ve done my share of hospitality, cleaning and retail. I’ve been demeaned and disrespected. And for the record have never and would never ever demean, disrespect anyone else in those positions. I am always grateful for good service, always pleasant to waiting staff, retail staff and even the person cleaning the toilet. Actually even when the service isn’t that good, or the staff are clearly unhappy I’ve been pleasant. I don’t know what kind of day they’re having. I’ve done my share and respect them for it, honest living is and an honest living period. And I certainly didn’t come from a rich family, far from it. Couldn’t efford tertiary education, I worked hard, really hard and still do. The flip side of the 90 day contract is that historically Employers had to face a protracted, expensive and legally difficult tightrope to eliminate the underachieving, unreliable, or dishonest employee. At great cost financially, business reputation and staff morale. Is that fair? Keeping in mind that it might not be a big multinational company making millions, it might be a small family business just trying to make ends meet and get ahead like you? And I’m sorry but it’s not really fair to use your experience about being at the nasty end of being let go after 90 days because you can only post your perspective of it and granted it might seem that way to you but we have no way of knowing the other perspective. You feel you worked above and beyond and you may well have done but we don’t know the reason it happened to you. I’m not saying I do but could it possibly have been something to do with attitude or a sense of entitlement that wasn’t yet justified? I have a strange old fashioned notion that opportunity looks a lot like hard work. In the businesses big and small, others and my own that I’ve been involved with no one who worked hard and had a great attitude was ever let go. It just doesn’t happen. Those people are an asset to any business, and sometimes the business itself can’t offer them the oppertunities they deserve and they move one, to bigger and better things and a good business person wishes them well and is happy for their success. And if the hard work alone isn’t working for you than you need hard work and with a huge injection of positive/good attitude. The difference between those I work with with PTSD and other conditions and disabilities is a massive step up in attitude. The fuck it, its gonna be hard but I’m going to try anyway attitude. It’s gonna sometimes suck and I’ll feel overwhelmed, undervalued and exhausted to the core of me, but I’ll get up and do it again tomorrow. And if someone’s demeans me I’ll look inside and know in myself they don’t know me and it’s not true. I might take steps backwards sometimes but I’ll still try hard as I can to move forward. And if nothing else ensuring I try the best I can with a smile on my face and I acknowledge my effort and let no one else’s opinion real or imagined change my view of myself and the world. Those people always get ahead somewhere along the line and usually take others with them. And those that don’t really ever make it, in the ways you seem to think, well at least they aren’t so bitter and angry about things. And I’m not at all sure those at the top of big business work less hard at all. They can work damn hard and actually their success or failure normally determines how many minimum wage staff are employed under them. They might seem to enjoy the spoils of everyone’s efforts but they also carry the burden that their success or failure effects many more than themselves. That’s a big load and responsibility. That might even be stressful? I don’t know the specifics of John Keys statements, I’m not sure if they are taken out of context and been twisted to suit your agenda. I’m neither a lefty or a righty. I’m not sure either political point of view is the answer to all our worries. They point the finger at each other and blame each other for our particular problems at present. But surely some of them are created by historical decisions so both sides need to take some responsiblity. All I know is that you can’t throw money at all the things that need it without creating wealth. You can’t have one without the other. And I’m sure there are super rich that somehow don’t pay their share. And that’s not right. But mostly even those you seem to think are the “haves” are just hard working people too. We need those businesses big and small to keep the economy afloat and we’re doing ourselves a disservice if we focus on what the world/country/government should be doing for us all the time? We’re focusing on the wrong thing and what we what we focus on grows. Just saying.

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    1. I really couldn’t be fucked reading the entire poverty shaming rant you sprayed all over the comments section, but the fact that I have been extensively published on sites and books around the world, might suggest I’m doing a fair amount to better my situation.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That was actual some pretty sound, impartial advice. On the one hand I admire you for following your passion, although it’s a pity it amounts to no more than professional whinging. And since you pulled the old race card, you’re white, so what’s your excuse? Life is tough, live and learn. Good luck to you, the real world awaits.

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      2. Erm the real world? You mean the world where I spend most of my spare time volunteering for Unite Union and other social movements to try and better the lives and economic position of workers? What have you done Andy to move in solidarity with people in struggle?

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      3. Hmmm so firstly I took the time to read your blog to try to understand your point of view and situation. But you’ve labeled what I had to say a poverty shaming rant. How do you know if you didn’t read it? Amazing gift. Secondly I really struggle with those who have to point out their own achievements? Shouldn’t they speak for themselves? Lastly I happen to have a notion that we can’t fix things if we don’t understand each other and that takes dialogue. Both ways. And now I’m not the least bit interested in anything else you have to say. Helpful. And you were 90 dayyed. Surprising.

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      4. Nice deflection. How about taking responsibility for your situation instead of blaming everyone else. Life is full of choices, it’s hard so be smart. What have I done in solidarity? All of my free time is spent on working, paying taxes and raising a family. Those taxes support many social programmes and support those in need.

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  8. what a load of rubbish, and yes I live below the poverty line on a benefit. And what you claim John Key has called people is fictional, he never said that. Nice to twist things to try and fir your political view, but try to be honest. And no your wages is not poverty level, it’s just that you live above your means and do not know how to budget and live within your means because I live on a benefit and I refute anyone who claims I live a life of poverty despite the left’s claims that I must. You should try living with real illnesses instead of making up rubbish to try and make a point because you don’t want to be responsible for your self and just want to push a political point for your masters.

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      1. lol… Ive maintained jobs for years and years, but those jobs where always part-time. Increasingly it is hard to come by employers who are prepared to offer you a living wage and guarentee of hours. Me pointing out you are a nasty individual has nothing to do with my work ethic and everything to do with your woefully ignorant views.

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  9. I hope you do not mind my asking but I thought you had found a secure job at AUT editing Debate magazine; what happened? I thought you had broken free from the vicious cycle of low paid casual work. Sorry to hear things are not good.

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  10. People who don’t get it aren’t going to get it. They imagine that everyone should have tried to be a truly profitable parasite, like a forex banker; or that the state restructuring the economy so it is fairer on the working poor is somehow going to make things worse for them. There’s only a narrow percentage of the population that benefit from the economy, off the back of everyone else’s work and suffering. 10%, Maybe as much as 20%; In a country of 4 million. that’s still a lot of holier-than-thou arseholes, a few of whom are sure to wash up in the comments. Especially since their supercilious worldview has saturated our media for 20 years: so throw in the deadlings voting for this government brainlessly against their own interests every election.

    Even if it was all a “choice”.,that choice should be made real clear and explicit at school. If (conservatively) 20% of the population possess 80% of the wealth,all children should be told this so they can choose whether to jump into the rat-race of the ever-dwindling 20%; or lump with the 80% and change the system.
    But the outcome of that would be inevitable; far better for the entrenched elite to lull people with the lie, the survivorship fallacy, that hard work = good life.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Kia ora Paul

      Yep, you are right people who don’t get it likly never will. And no matter how much you point out we are living under a failed and brutal economic model and no matter how hard you work you will likly still be stuck in poverty there will always be those people who engage in poverty shaming as if it is a bloodsport. #Shame

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  11. I’m totally with you. I had to leave nz with my family for Australia. And we are much better here. Key and the national party and their followers stuffed up everything for the average families and individuals. They are too selfish and too greedy!! I wish them hell!!

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    1. Yeah I left NZ for oz a few years ago and I made a much better living and had a much highter standard of living … that said the rates of poverty in OZ are pretty dismal and it isn’t all it is cracked up to me in OZ either? But I understand why many Kiwi’s have flocked over there…

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  12. Thank you Chloe you nailed it. I will share this on Facebook – hopefully one of the folks I know can flick you some cash to help in your work, cos I sure as fuck can’t! Yours in solidarity…

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  13. I agree totally with your article and have experienced many of these issues firsthand. However, my problem was exacerbated by the Union representing my class of work. I made 3 attempts at contact (wanting to join), not one reply from them. Add that to the exorbitant monthly fees they listed (to a low paid worker). And the fact that they had been trying to access my workplace for over 2 years, but had settled for being fobbed off by the management.
    I had clear evidence of illegal conduct by my employers including; illegal clauses in contracts, ignoring directives form Health n Safety (after accidents), refusal by management to adhere to Health n safety legislation, illegal sending of personal information to third parties, bullying by management, favouritism to select employees, and much more.
    No-one cared.

    Like

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