The pandemic made one truth hard to ignore: the people we need the most are often the ones we value the least. While many people were furloughed or laid off during lockdowns, “essential workers” like drivers, carers and warehouse employees had to keep working because the economy couldn’t cope without them. Yet in many countries, these jobs are characterised by long or unpredictable hours, low pay and insecurity. In New Zealand, a new law currently going through parliament aims to make bad jobs better. It represents a huge shift in the trajectory of the country’s labour market — one whose success or failure will have ripple effects on policy well beyond its shores. New Zealand has long been a poster child for labour market deregulation. Sweeping reforms in 1991 dismantled the old system of national pay awards and led to a flexible economy with high employment rates by international standards. In 2020, the World Bank named New Zealand the easiest country out of 190 in which to do business. But productivity and wage growth have been weak. New Zealanders work longer hours than average in OECD countries but produce less per hour.