Should we close the wage gap with Australia a bit?
Would organising the world of work a little bit more similarly to the way Australia does, to help with that task?
My answer to both questions is yes, which is why I was pleased with our release today of Labour's Work and Wages policy.
Ever since the 1980s, New Zealand workers have seen wages lower than they should have done. The radical reforms of Rogernomics weren't the issue so much as the massive stripping away of labour market deregulation.
Instead of dealing with a sclerotic system of compulsory union membership by sorting things out, political parties of the right conspired with employers to remove almost every protection Kiwi workers have, other than the barest minima of procedural fairness.
The result, partly of this and partly of other anti-fairness policies, is a hollowed out labour market with poverty wages at the bottom, and stagnant incomes in the middle, with the rich running away with the loot, pardon the phrase.
Those people have had a dream run. The basic attack on collective bargaining embodied in the ECA was not fully turned around by the Employment Relations Act. The voices of the powerful made sure that Act could never be as effective as it should have been.
So today, aside from other important and welcome minimum code improvements like better minimum wages, we announced a new form of employment agreement that can join individual and collective agreements: Industry Standard Agreements.
These offer industries with some baseline collective bargaining going on, the chance to extend core norms for minimum conditions across the whole industry. It's like customising the minimum code for a particular industry, depending on its ability to pay and other circumstances.
It's a great idea. It avoids the pitfalls of compulsory membership of trade unions, but strengthens the impact of collective bargaining none the less.
Watch for the people who complain about it. They will form into two camps. They'll be motivated apologists for, or attack dogs of, the political Right. Or, they will be representatives of employer and industry groups who have enjoyed a long period of free-loading on the shoulders of people who work hard and pay their taxes.
Neither should be given much attention on an objective basis, but the voices of the rich and the powerful are always amplified loudly - especially when someone challenges their assumed privileges (in this case, the privilege to under-pay people).
By moving towards the more regulated Australian labour market, we will see relatively higher wages in New Zealand than we otherwise would.
National is pledging further weakening of labour laws. That would feed through into lower wages, greater inequality, and the top end pocketing the lot -- precisely what has happened every time it's been tried, no matter where.
Decent wages are a good thing for the people earning them, and for the companies who employ too. They focus management minds on lifting productivity. They honour the efforts people make in the work place.
There's only one hitch: it won't happen on its own.
To make things better, you've got to vote for change, and that means a change to a Labour-led government.
The centre-right's policy is the opposite. Lower wages and vulnerable work is their ambition. That is what National and ACT stand for.
The choice is up to you.