Damien Grant is an Auckland business owner, member of the Taxpayers’ Union and regular opinion writer for Stuff, who writes from a libertarian perspective.
OPINION: It’s the Queen’s birthday as I type this. The weather seems pleasant. I can see it from outside my window but didn’t bother to venture out.
I’ve spent the day at my computer working on the things I need to achieve in the next few days.
On my desk, next to the scraps of a day at the office, are the remains of a chicken sandwich I bought at the local bakery and a half-empty can of a toxic fizzy substance that the local dairy kindly sold me.
Why am I telling you this, and why am I not enjoying the sun like most office workers who are legally entitled to a day off with pay?
* Holidays – who needs them? It’s much better to have private ones
* What happens next for Labour’s promised Matariki holiday?
* Matariki should only become a new holiday if we cancel an existing one
* Petitions for holidays in Matariki “standing on the shoulders of giants”
The simple reason is that I am not an employee. I run my own small commercial operation. In some months, hours spent alone in the office make the difference between profit and loss.
The same applies to the young immigrant families who run the bakery and dairy. For me and her there is no public holiday.
Given the choice between making money by working and helping the suffering woman in the garden, I chose cash.
Those who work in the bakery and dairy obviously made the same decision. Nobody pays us to take a day off, so we don’t take a day off.
Meanwhile, on a day off, large sections of the workforce indulge in the illusion that someone is paying them for nothing. They are not.
Unless you are a landlord or civil servant, you will not be paid if you do not work.
The reality for most Kiwis is that their net wages are falling.
We have had a problem of low productivity for many years and this has been compounded by a lack of capital compared to our friends across the Tasman and elsewhere.
“New Zealanders tend to work harder rather than smarter, which makes improving living standards even more difficult,” said Ganesh Nana, the Commissioner for Productivity.
Atypical for Nana, his assessment is correct.
We produce just $68 of value per hour on average, compared to the $85 average for other OECD countries.
We partially compensate by working more hours; A typical New Zealand worker works 34.2 hours a week, compared to 31.9 in other OECD countries. The fact is that we have to work longer because we earn less, and we earn less because we produce less.
We also compensate for this with lower living standards, cuts in health care for the poor, and high rates of child poverty compared to more productive nations.
Productivity is a measure of how much we produce for a given unit of work. A man with a scythe will cut far less grain in a day than one driving a combine.
As a result, the combine driver will earn much more than the one who swings away in the long grass.
Because we have less capital accumulated than other OECD countries, we have fewer tractors, roads, engineers and combines than other nations. Ergo, we produce less and consequently earn less.
Because of this, we have to work longer to buy a new iPhone than someone doing a similar job in a more developed country.
I’m not optimistic that we’ll solve this problem, but let’s just take it for granted for now.
This brings me back to the long weekend and those of us who work while others frolic in the sun or, like in June, sit comfortably at home and check their phones.
Workers may think they’re getting paid to take a day off, but they’re not, not really. Employers are not stupid. We’re not greedy either. We simply respond to incentives and pressure to keep our companies solvent.
We now have 12 annual holidays: New Year’s Day, the day after the New Year, Waitangi Day, the day the Romans nailed Jesus to the cross, the day Jesus ascended to heaven, Anzac Day, the Queen’s Birthday, Matariki , Labor Day, the day Jesus was born and the day after the birth of Jesus. Oh, and every region has its anniversary.
Add in four weeks of annual leave and ten sick days, and that’s a total of 42 days that employers know their employees are unlikely to be working; six more than when Ardern took office.
That accounts for almost one day a week and if we factor in morning and afternoon tea, smoko, time to vape and every morning on Facebook, the reality is that New Zealand already has a four day work week and workers are, in truth, paid accordingly.
If I wanted to let my employees work, I would have to pay them a time and a half and give them a spare day; actually two and a half times their salary.
I don’t do that because, unlike an L’Oreal ad, they don’t make economic sense. The extra labor costs would put my little business in the red.
“Matariki is becoming a distinctly New Zealand holiday; a time for reflection and celebration,” boasted the Prime Minister when announcing the date last year. In a way, she’s right. We are becoming a claim society; one where we ask more of the state and our employers and expect to contribute less.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says Matariki’s new public holiday will most likely fall on a Monday or Friday from 2022. (Video first released February 2021)
Unfortunately, this is clearly New Zealand, and it will result in ever slower economic growth, returning to those unable or unwilling to put in the increased working hours we need to offset a low-wage economy.
Meanwhile, for those of us freed from these foolish labor restrictions, the work will go on, the chicken sandwiches will continue to be sold and the wealth and income gap between those willing to work on the Queen’s birthday and those who who do not do this will continue to increase, should be expanded.
Enjoy Matariki. I will be at work.