Kerre McIvor: Who's looking out for small business owners?

Publish Date
Sun, 7 Apr 2019, 1:02PM

Kerre McIvor: Who's looking out for small business owners?

Publish Date
Sun, 7 Apr 2019, 1:02PM

On Monday, April Fool's Day, a whole host of legislation designed to protect the rights of workers came into effect.

The minimum wage rose from $16.50 per hour, to $17.70. Over the next two years, the minimum wage will gradually increase to $20, in line with the Coalition Government's commitment.

The Victim's Protection Act provides 10 days of paid leave per year to victims of domestic violence in a bid to give them the time off they need to escape their situation – to attend court hearings, find a new place to live and visit their doctors, for example.

It's also intended to help people stay in employment – too often, according to the experts, victims use up their holidays and sick leave trying to keep working while experiencing abuse until it becomes too hard and they chuck in their jobs.

The architect of the bill, Jan Logie, told me this week that research shows more than half of the domestic violence victims who start the relationship in a job, lose that job over the course of the relationship – and that keeps them trapped.

And in more protections for workers, rest breaks and meal breaks will be restored next month and 90-day trial periods will be restricted to businesses with fewer than 20 employees.

Good on Labour and New Zealand First for fulfilling their election campaign promises. I'm all for looking out for employees. After all, I am one. I always have been. I don't have the chutzpah or the mental fortitude to run my own business. Give me a good boss and I'll show you a loyal lackey and that's the way I like it.

But there are plenty of Kiwis who love to do their own thing. Who are willing to take a punt and start their own business and who provide a living for thousands of families. And they're the ones I'm really concerned about. Who's looking out for them?

Most businesses are tiny. According to 2017 stats, 97 per cent of the country's enterprises have fewer than 20 employees. And those wee businesses employ nearly a third of us. Twenty eight per cent of GDP is produced by those same small businesses.

What it means is that small businesses are vital to this country but they are really, really doing it tough. I've heard from so many of them over the past few months, and I know a few as well.

These men and women aren't the ones travelling at the front of the plane, wondering whether the south of Italy will be crowded at this time of year. They're the ones lying wide awake in the small hours, wondering whether they'll still have a house next year.

They're not out playing with the kids in the park on the weekend, or out sailing with friends. They're working every hour. They're not guaranteed a wage, week in, week out. To get the money to pay staff, bills and finally themselves, they have to sell something the rest of us want. A product or a service. And they have to be really good at that or else they go bust.

They don't have taxpayer money to fund their salaries and lifestyles, whether they're good at what they do or rubbish. It's not that they don't support the worker provisions. They do. Most I talked to paid above the odds – they have to, to get good staff and retain them.

And many of them supported the leave for victims of domestic violence – they just thought if the Government believed so strongly in the initiative, the Government should fund it as they do parental leave.

They have to look after their staff well, because in small businesses, you're inter-dependent. All they want is a fair deal. They want to know that if they build up their businesses through sweat equity and returning any profits back into the business, that they'll get a decent return when they finally sell up.

If they're hit with a CGT, it hardly seems worth it. And while it's all very well and good to protect workers, you have to have somebody to employ them. Right now, it's getting harder and harder for Kiwi business owners to do that.