Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The nine-day fortnight

The government has announced its subsidy for its nine-day fortnight plan: the minimum wage ($12.50 / hour) for up to 5 hours a week. So instead of a 10% pay cut, workers are only being expected to lose 4 - 7% instead - but only if they work in a large business employing 100 or more staff.

I have very mixed feelings about this. All other things being equal, I favour people taking their time back, and the method used by NZ Aluminium Smelters - asking people "who wants an extra day off?" - is perfectly acceptable. But the general idea of businesses cutting wages during a recession rather than accepting reduced profits simply stinks. Government assistance makes it stink slightly less, but it doesn't disguise the fact that the cost of the recession is being dumped on innocent workers rather than the greedy corporate pricks who caused it.

OTOH, this also presents an opportunity. The scheme relies on voluntary agreements between employers, workers and unions to reduce hours. But when the economy recovers, there's no reason why we have to give that time back. Instead, we could keep it, push for higher hourly pay and better overtime rather than more hours, and let the recession establish a shorter working week by default.