Skip to Content »

Income differentials

  • October 29th, 2007

Staying in Dubai with NZ friends inevitably leads to talk about NZ’s future. Can the NZ way of life withstand the competition with the people being honed in these frenetic new capitals of commerce? Is that competition avoidable?

Workers arrive by the planeload from India, the Philippines, Pakistan, China. As an employer pointed out in a local paper “how could I want to go back to [Europe] to run a business when here I can work with people who turn up every day, on time, who do not get drunk, who try to do anything I ask them to do, who do not want to make me responsible for their feelings or health, who ask only that I pay them the market rate, and teach them how to do what I do”.

So many of our kids are being misled into thinking that the world will value them for being able to sing and dance and cook for visitors, for being proud of their culture and in touch with their feelings, for being strong and good at sport.

The wage differentials here show what the world actually values enough to pay for. It is not muscles or culture. As always it is what is scarce. The labourers on the buildings that go up a floor a week, get between 700 to 1000 dhs per month for up to 12 hours per day 6 days per week.  That is around NZ$250. They can pay 200 dhs for some floor space and 200 for food for the month.

Dinner for 3 at a local chain restaurant for everyday middle class dining cost us 300 dhs last night. The retaurant was packed with people of all hues. Only Emiratis seemed rare.

Just down the road a building labourer protest to get their 700 dhs per month increased to 1000 turned into a small riot two nights ago. The protesters are now on planes back home, banned forever from returning.

A graduate tour guide with good English gets say 2000 dhs per month, and lives in a better room (still shared) and pays say 700 including food.

A legal secretary with Arabic gets around 15,000 to 20,000 dhs per month. The bosses with scarce legal, accounting, engineering skills get between 5 and 20 times that.

So the labourer in 40C heat may get less than 1/100th of a common skilled income and less than  1/10th of a secretarial income.

I hope that one day responsibility will be sheeted home to those who have steered our education system into allowing up to a quarter of our kids to leave school functionally illiterate. They have an open world monthly value equivalent to the price of a few meals and taxi fares, and space on a floor with scores of others.

 Many will never have the dignity of being paid voluntarily by their fellow humans more than a fraction of the value of what they consume, in services, let alone food, clothing and shelter.


  • Susan Aucutt
  • October 30th, 2007
  • 6:53 am

Very good observations,Stephen. Exactly the way I think. Our life in Asia made us aware of the value of education and work ethics. It was a huge culture shock for us when we came here to live. A shock that I will never get over. The trouble is that things are so much worse now, and with each passing year. When will everyone wake up?

  • MikeNZ
  • November 1st, 2007
  • 7:13 am

600+ people leaving NZ a week isn’t waking anyone up.
Because they are the frog in the warm water, it’s only when you actually get into the world that you see what is called for.

Good call Stephen.

Leave your comments:

* Required fields. Your e-mail address will not be published on this site

You can use the following HTML tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>