Life During Capitalism- one history student's perspective on life during capitalism

"To omit or to minimize these voices of resistance is to create the idea that power only rests with those who have the guns, who possess the wealth, who own the newspapers and the television stations. I want to point out that people who seem to have no power, whether working people, people of colour, or women-once they organize and protest and create movements-have a voice no government can suppress." Howard Zinn

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Youth Pay Rates-Polling the People

The polls have almost closed and the government will soon be deciding whether to do away with the youth minimum wage through the Minimum Wage (Abolition of Age Discrimination) Amendment Bill. OMAR HAMED of Radical Youth reflects back on the campaign and hits the streets one final time to see what youth have to say about their pay.

In New Zealand, 16 to 17-year-olds can be legally paid $8.20 per hour for the same work as an 18-year-old who gets at least $10.25. Under 16-year-olds can be paid whatever the employer decides in this country, as there is no set minimum wage for this age group.
When myself and a ragged bunch of young workers and students grouped together, we came to one conclusion.
Paying young people a lower wage for equal work is discrimination – pure and simple. The issue of youth rates is similar to that of pay equality for women with men. In both cases, a member of a social grouping is discriminated against in the workplace because they are a member of that group.

Standing up for a buck

Over the last few months, thousands of students and young people have taken to the streets to demand ‘Equal Work for Equal Pay’. We marched, danced, sung, laughed, cheered and pulled together all meagre resources to create a campaign designed to abolish youth rates.
On Monday March 20 on the stroke of noon in the heart of Auckland’s CBD, 1000 high school students rallied and marched up and down Queen Street.
They demonstrated the power of collective direct action; using their feet to vote for the passing of the Minimum Wage (Abolition of Age Discrimination) Amendment Bill that will scrap youth rates for 16 and 17-year-olds.
This stance was backed up on International Workers Day on May 1 when 500 youth and trade union allies marched again down the main strip to demand an end to discrimination based on age.

Forward Movement

The Ministry of Justice has since advised the government that youth rates are an abuse of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 – news that has been greeted with pleasant surprise from various youth movements.
In addition, Minister of Youth Affairs Nanaia Mahuta advocated for the abolition of youth rates earlier in the Tearaway May 06 issue.
“MYD has long advocated equal pay for equal work. I suspect there’ll be a number of factors that will effect the outcome and those will include how the economy is going and whether there are employers who can support a universal minimum wage.”
She adds that she will be watching with interest as for the outcome of the Transport and Industrial Relations select committee's deliberations on this issue
The ministry has been conducting a nationwide ‘tick-the-box’ campaign in an effort to give young New Zealanders a strong voice on the issue. The polls officially close on June 30.
Over 100,000 freepost postcards were distributed to secondary schools, technical institutes and through Tearaway magazine asking 12 to 24-year-olds what they think about youth minimum wages.
Green Party Industrial Relations spokesperson Sue Bradford – who first tabled the private members’ bill to parliament in December 2005 – pointed out that youth pay rates may already be illegal as a breach of the Bill of Rights.
She backed up the Ministry of Justice’s advice to the Attorney General, saying she would continue to “vigorously pursue (the) Bill to end discrimination based on age.”

The cost of change

Meanwhile, Employers and Manufacturers Association (Northern) employment services manager David Lowe warns that the removal of youth rates would result in an increase in teenage unemployment.
“The abolition of youth rates means a lot more teenagers would find work harder to get. School leavers already find it hard enough to get started. The option to pay minimum youth rates often gets teenage careers underway,” he says.
Citing a survey undertaken last year by the association, in which 14% of employers reported they were paying youth rates, Mr Lowe adds further weight to the opposing argument.
“Abolishing the youth rates would hurt teenagers more than help them, especially with the present economic outlook, because if an employer has a choice between a school leaver with no work experience, and a more experienced worker, they will choose the worker with more experience every time – unless there is an incentive to do otherwise.”

The Final Frontier

Regardless of the outcome, this campaign has proved that youth do have the power. They have the power that rests in wrestling back control of our cities, communities and culture.
Watch this space.

Published in the July issue of Tearaway



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