Help a Struggling Business, Work for Free!

I was saddened but not surprised to see this headline in today’s Bay of Plenty Times: “Living Wage Would ‘Devastate’ Business” (not online yet). After all, any time there’s a proposal for anything that would remotely help workers, this paper (along with most others) can be depended upon to find someone to tell us that we can’t possibly [extend paid parental leave, enforce pay equity, ensure union rights, spend more/anything on worker safety, pay overtime, etc. etc. ad nauseam] otherwise the sky will fall. Late last year, when Sue Moroney’s paid parental leave bill was in the news, the paper found a few people to essentially say that employers would discriminate against female job seekers if paid parental leave were implemented because they might get pregnant. Wow.

179937_333566890047656_1949415847_nBut take a look at that first headline again – “Living Wage Would ‘Devastate’ Business”. Precisely the same facts could be presented under a headline that reads something like this: “Business Model Depends on Poverty Wages”. In fact, you could come up with an alt headline for pretty much every one of these articles, which are nearly always long on rhetoric and short on actual evidence: “Sex Discrimination a Necessity, Says Lobby Group”; “Area Employers Need Low Safety Bar”; “Unfair Pay Rates Keep Local Businesses Afloat” “Parents Must Make Work ‘Top Priority'”.

To be fair, the BoP Times did speak with an organiser from First Union, whose brief comments were swiftly countered by a few employers explaining just how come they can’t pay their workers a living wage. Wouldn’t it be nice if we – including the Chamber of Commerce – could move past that, acknowledge a living wage as a community goal and talk about ways of getting there, not just recite the endless list of  “why we can’t”.

The primary source for today’s article was Max Mason, the CEO of the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce. And yes, that’s the same Max Mason who is praising the Bay of Plenty Times in one of the paper’s promotional videos for its March 4 revamp. Mr. Mason says in the video that the new BoP Times business section will “benefit local businesses by being really close to the ground…” Great! At least they’re getting some benefits in this cruel world of workers demanding enough money to live on. Tauranga businesses might not be able to pay a living wage, but at least they’re going to get a boost from the Bay of Plenty Times’s new Business Section.

Also promoting the paper in one of the videos is the city’s mayor, Stuart Crosby, and the Commercial Manager of Bay of Plenty Rugby, Matt Cairns. “Business sections” of daily newspapers have long since become the home to pro-business PR, so I suppose it makes sense to have the local Chamber boss promoting yours. And once you’ve gone that far, why not have your top elected local government official shilling for the paper, too. The only comment I’ve found on any of the paper’s online coverage of its upcoming relaunch was from “fact_not_fiction” from Gate Pa (a Tauranga neighbourhood), who wrote (and I agree): “Mindful that our region has more than one media provider, mindful that the integrity of the media is very dependent on the perception of its neutrality, mindful that the Mayor is moving up a notch his re-election campaign – surely it is inappropriate for Mayor Crosby to be the lead advocate in this presentation.”

Along with union power, the days of serious and fair coverage of working people are long gone. Regional papers are boosters for local businesses, no doubt largely because business (and local government!) are the ones paying for what’s left of the papers’ advertising.

Today’s headline, and the line-up of promotional videos for the new-look BoP Times says it all, really. (Disclosure: I had a weekly column-writing gig for the BoP Times last year. Briefly.)

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