Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Sensible ideas

Ideas are either good or bad, sensible or not, and deciding which it is can’t be determined only by “considering the source”. If an idea is good, if the suggestion is sound, then it shouldn’t matter where it came from. Today provided a good example of that.

The screen shot at left is my friend Richard Hills’ Facebook post in which he shared an RNZ post, “National wants government to pay wages of those self-isolating”. It was based on remarks their party leader, Judith Collins, made on their Morning Report programme (the relevant interview is linked to in that RNZ story). No one could ever seriously suggest that either Richard or I are National Party supporters, so this underscores my point: Good ideas are good ideas.

There are, of course, some particulars to be worked out. The Ministry of Health is responsible for issuing “isolate for 14 days” orders, while the Department of Work and Income (WINZ), part of the Ministry of Social Development, is responsible for paying benefits (welfare). In my mind, the Ministry of Health would alert WINZ immediately after issuing their stay at home order, then at WINZ a specialist team would immediately act on the special benefit payment. This should just be an organisational thing, unless WINZ needs special legislation first (which is easy enough to do).

At the moment, there’s a wage subsidy scheme for employers to pay their workers when a lockdown closes a business, or they suffer big hits because of a high Alert Level. But that requires the business to apply, and, anyway, that’s designed for all a company's employees, not just those self-isolating. But the main problem with the current employee support scheme is that it pays less than minimum wage, and if people on low wages, often working multiple jobs just to pay rent, can’t get an appropriate level of support, they’ll have an incentive to break the rules and go to work, potentially spreading the virus widely.

As a friend of mine (also not a National Party supporter) has pointed out, it’s not reasonable to expect fast food and retail companies, which typically employ large numbers of low-wage workers, to do the right thing. Most won’t even tell workers that they can apply for a scheme. All of which is why the support scheme needs to be both fast and automatic.

Richard observed that it was unlikely anyone but those working in a small business would have the ability to even have time with their employer. In a large business (like retail or fast food, for example), a worker requesting their employer to apply for something on their behalf and pay them for two weeks is asking a lot. Richard also rightly pointed out that right now everything is built on a worker hoping for the best while they’re supposed to be isolating—and worrying if they’ve got money for their next bills or meals.

When I talked about the snap Alert Level change this past Saturday, I talked about how we as a country rightly expect people to do the right thing and stay isolated at home when told to do so. I also said that it seemed to me that any employer who threatened the employment of a worker because they were told to isolate should be “prosecuted for obstructing a public health order.” The suggestion for, essentially, full wage replacement, would solve the final problem by ensuring that low-income workers won’t end up even worse off if they follow the public health isolation rules. It seems to me that it’s not unreasonable to expect people to stay home when told to do so, however, we have a collective responsibility to support them to do so, and to help ensure they’re not worse off for having done the right thing.

To be sure, I not a supporter of the National Party, nor a fan of Judith Collins, and I'm absolutely certain that’s not going to change. However, this idea is both good and sensible. It doesn’t matter where it came from. Today provided a good example how and why that can be true.


Roger Owen Green said...

Hey, maybe the Republicans in the US will adopt this!!

Arthur Schenck said...

Yeah, I was thinking along those lines, especially how I can't imagine backing anything the Republicans would come up with, not the least because they don't actually have any policies.