Shortly after Valentine’s Day John Key was cornered by $15 Minimum Wage Campaigners who asked the question, “Could you live on less than $15 an hour?” unsurprisingly he admitted that he couldn’t. Key was quick to argue that increasing the minimum wage to $15 would lead to another 9000 people losing their jobs. Since National took office tens of thousands of jobs have already been lost, with over 5000 lost in May 2009 alone!

The $15 minimum wage campaign began in the same month and stories of people working 40 hours plus each week and not having enough left to pay for even the basics laving them with no choice but to use their credit card to pay for groceries and fuel have become the norm.

Whilst Key skulked away, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett was busy finalising her ‘welfare shake up’. Since her recent announcement of ‘tightening things up’ Beneficiary Advocacy Federation spokeswoman Kay Brereton says there are just not enough jobs at the moment to make the Government’s plan a feasible one. “They’re blaming the poor for being poor and for being unemployed or for being sick or for being solo parents,” said Ms Brereton. “They’re not investing in finding jobs and in helping these people.”

Taking the $15 minimum wage petition to the streets, we occasionally get a rant from someone about ‘welfare cheats’ and that ‘you’re only paid what your worth’ but when we begin to investigate who is really cheating the welfare system it becomes obvious that it doesn’t matter how hard you work whilst the fat cats are pulling the strings.

Rio Tinto is the World’s biggest miner and operates the aluminium plant in Bluff. The company currently absorbs over 15% of the country’s generated power but pays a fraction of the cost. The discounted amount is a heavily guarded secret, but someone has to pay the remaining balance and guess who foots the bill? The tax payer.

We’re told that the amount of jobs and wealth created by the industry far outweighs the price, however In Western Australia, for example, mining made $72 billion last year. The actual return to the Government as royalties for letting mining companied dig the land? Less than $3 billion. Once the minerals are out of the Earth it’s anyone’s guess where it’s processed.

The cost is further added to by the Trade and Emission Scheme. In 2006 Rio Tinto threatened to uproot its factory and leave the NZ if the Labour Government continued on its plans to implement its regulations on green house gas emissions. The mine is actually increasing its emissions as it works harder to find minerals within the rock – the Government, if it wants to keep Rio Tinto in NZ, will have to subsidise further by giving out free emission permits to the company. In Australia, just like here, nothing is free – Rio Tinto is set to receive A$462 million in free permits this year alone!

New Zealand’s largest multi-national corporation is Fonterra controlling 30% of the World’s dairy exports. Its environmental record in NZ is disgraceful with the use of palm kernel based feed, supplied from striped native rainforests, dirty Lignite coal used to power the milk hydrators at Edendale and the methane gases produced by cattle and intense irrigation of the land. By being exempt from the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), until 2015, agricultural greenhouse gas emitters are currently receiving a $1.1 billion subsidy from taxpayers. This is only set to rise as Fonterra tightens its grip on the economy and further exploits the land.

When the Government attacks an ‘unknown’ number of beneficiaries who are supposedly ripping off the honest citizen of New Zealand and when we hear the anti-worker, prejudiced rubbish parroted by a handful of people we come across when we pass around the $15 minimum wage petition I can’t help think about the recent news of the planned mining in our national parks, the water privatisation schemes, ACC cuts, backhanders to McDonald’s, pay freezes and attacks on welfare and community centres. There is a big fight on the horizon and we better begin to prepare ourselves.

From our comrades in AWSM: check out their freesheet here.