How Holidays Keep Us Poor

Damien Grant is an Auckland business owner, member of the Taxpayers Union and regular opinion contributor to Stuff, writing from a libertarian perspective.

OPINION: It’s the Queen’s birthday as I type this. The weather looks nice. I can see it from outside my window but I haven’t bothered to venture outside.

I spent the day in front of my computer working on the things I need to accomplish over the next few days.

On my desk, along with the detritus of a day’s work at the office, are the remains of a chicken sandwich purchased from the local bakery and a half-finished can of a noxious gassy substance that the local dairy had the kindness to sell me.

Why am I telling you this, and why am I not soaking up the sun like most office workers who are legally entitled to a paid day off?

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* Matariki should only become a new holiday if we remove an existing one
* Petitions for Matariki holidays “stand on the shoulders of giants”

The simple reason is that I am not an employee. I run my own small business operation. Some months the difference between profit and loss is the hours spent alone in the office.

The same goes for young immigrant families who manage both the bakery and the agenda. For me and for them, there is no holiday.

Given the choice between the money I can earn working and helping the long-suffering woman in the garden, I chose money.

Dairies across the country do not have the luxury of taking holidays.

IAIN MCGREGOR/STUFF

Dairies across the country do not have the luxury of taking holidays.

Those who worked in the bakery and dairy clearly made the same decision. Nobody pays us to take a day off, so we don’t take a day off.

Meanwhile, large swaths of the workforce enjoy a day off under the illusion that someone is paying them to do nothing. They are not.

Unless you are an owner or a civil servant, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid.

The reality for most Kiwis is that their take home pay is falling.

For many years we had a problem of low productivity and this was compounded by a lack of capital, compared to our friends across Tasmania and elsewhere.

The chairman of the New Zealand Productivity Commission, Ganesh Nana, highlighted the country's low relative productivity and its impact on our standard of living.

Provided

The chairman of the New Zealand Productivity Commission, Ganesh Nana, highlighted the country’s low relative productivity and its impact on our standard of living.

“New Zealanders work harder rather than smarter, which makes improving living standards even more difficult,” said Productivity Commissioner Ganesh Nana.

Unlike Nana, her assessment is correct.

We produce, on average, only $68 of value per hour, compared to the average of other OECD countries of $85.

We compensate, in part, by working more hours; a typical New Zealand worker works 34.2 hours a week, compared to 31.9 in other OECD countries. And the fact is that we have to work longer because we earn less, and we earn less because we produce less.

Boxing Day is a popular holiday for Kiwis looking to shop, but it's not just the spending that means the holidays are holding us back, says Damien Grant.

MARK TAYLOR/Stuff

Boxing Day is a popular holiday for Kiwis looking to shop, but it’s not just the spending that means the holidays are holding us back, says Damien Grant.

We also compensate by having a lower standard of living, skimping on health care for the poor, and high rates of child poverty compared to more productive countries.

Productivity is a measure of what we produce for a given unit of work. A man with a scythe will cut far less grain in a day than a man driving a combine harvester.

Therefore, the man who drives the combine harvester will earn much more than the man who swings in the tall grass.

Because we have accumulated less capital than other OECD countries, we have fewer tractors, roads, engineers and combine harvesters than other countries. So we produce less and therefore we earn less.

These Kiwis celebrated the Queen's birthday with a tea party.  Damien Grant ate a chicken sandwich at his desk.

WARWICK SMITH / Stuff

These Kiwis celebrated the Queen’s birthday with a tea party. Damien Grant ate a chicken sandwich at his desk.

That’s why we have to work more hours to buy a new iPhone than someone doing similar work in a more developed country.

I’m not optimistic about fixing this problem, but for now, let’s take it for granted.

Which brings me back to the long weekend and those of us working while others are having fun in the sun or, being June, sitting comfortably at home and staring at our phones.

Workers may think they’re being paid to take the day off, but that’s not the case, not really. Employers are not stupid. We are not greedy either. We are simply responding to incentives and pressure to maintain the solvency of our businesses.

We now have 12 annual holidays: New Year’s Day, New Year’s Day, Waitangi Day, the day the Romans nailed Jesus to the cross, the day Jesus ascended into heaven, the day of Anzac, Queen’s Birthday, Matariki, Labor Day, the day Jesus was born and the day after Jesus was born. Oh, and every region has its birthday.

Adding four weeks annual leave and 10 sick days, that makes a total of 42 days that employers know their staff are unlikely to work; six more than when Ardern took office.

That equates to almost a day a week, and when you factor in morning and afternoon tea, smoko, time to vape and check Facebook each morning, the reality is that Nova Zealand already has a four-day working week and workers are, in truth, paid accordingly.

Damien Grant works while others play on public holidays because if he doesn't, his business will suffer.

Things

Damien Grant works while others play on public holidays because if he doesn’t, his business will suffer.

If I wanted to make my staff work, I would have to pay them time and a half and give them a replacement day; in fact, two and a half times their salary.

I don’t because, unlike a L’oreal ad, they’re not worth it, economically speaking. The extra labor cost would put my small business in the red.

“Matariki will be a quintessentially New Zealand party; a time of reflection and celebration,” boasted the Premier when she announced the date last year. She’s right, in a way. We are becoming a society of rights; one where we demand more from the state and our employers, and expect to contribute less.

THINGS

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the new Matariki public holiday beginning in 2022 will most likely be a Monday or Friday. (Video first published in February 2021)

This is distinctly New Zealand, unfortunately, and it will mean ever lower economic growth and a comeback for those who can’t or won’t put in the overtime we need to work to compensate for a low wage economy .

Meanwhile, for those of us who aren’t committed to these senseless work restrictions, the grind will continue, the chicken sandwiches will continue to be sold, and the growing wealth and income gap between those who want to work on the Queen’s birthday and those who don’t. , will expand.

Enjoy Matariki. I will be at work.

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