The false illusion of shared sacrifice

by Don Franks

As thousands of workers lose their jobs or suffer pay cuts, ACT party leader David Seymour suggests MPs reduce their pay too. Mr Seymour told TVNZ’s Breakfast programme he’ll put a bill on April 28.

“In the interim, Parliament hasn’t been sitting but I’ve got a bill drafted that would basically drop MPs’ pay by 20 percent for the period of the Government’s wage subsidy and maybe it can be extended after that”.

A small but significant step towards sharing the load?

No.

Members of Parliament usually get between $160,000 and $180,000 a year. Ministers are on between $250,000 and $300,000. The Prime Minister’s salary is set at $470,000. Taking the lowest MPs’ figure, 20% from $160,000 still leaves $128,000.  Compare that to the minimum wage that so many of us are on or close to. Just $37,000 per year.

Pay comparisons matter, but they form only part of the social justice picture. The majority of MPs these days come from relatively privileged backgrounds. Most of them, having been on decent remuneration for years, have had the opportunity to build up some sort of cushion for the crisis.

Those on or close to the minimum wage are less likely to own their own home and much more likely to live from payday to payday. Food costs, rent, power, transport and children’s requirements use up almost every cent in day-to-day living. For workers at this level, saving’s impossible. The poor pay more. Due to inferior housing and nutrition, the lowest-paid face the greatest health costs.

ACT’s petition supporting their bill says it will:

“. . . provide ministers with credibility to ask the public sector to make similar sacrifices, if appropriate.”

That sting in the tail is the substance of David Seymour’s bill. Whatever the intention in the mind of its proponent, the ACT bill is not about solidarity at all.

Its effect would be a false illusion of shared sacrifice. It would make workers’ perfectly reasonable demands appear selfish.  ACT’s bill would help keep struggling workers down. If David Seymour does want to help our side I suggest he withdraw his bill and substitute one legislating no pay cuts for workers affected by COVID-19 layoffs.

One comment

  1. This afternoon the government preempted ACT’s bill by imposing a 20% pay cut on the PM and cabinet. The action has been variously described as ‘leadership’, virtue signalling’ and ‘electioneering’. I believe it will do nothing for the working class but serve to further divide them at a time when workers unity is urgently needed.

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