1 Sep 2016

Goff promises push for council staff living wage

7:04 am on 1 September 2016

Moves to get Auckland Council staff on to the living wage have been reopened with mayoral hopeful Phil Goff pledging he'll give it a shot.

Phil Goff

Phil Goff Photo: Supplied

The living wage, higher than the legal minimum wage of $15.25, and is currently set by campaigners at $19.80.

Former Labour MP Mr Goff said he wanted all council staff earning at least the living wage.

The possibility was considered by the council in 2013 but was unsuccessful after councillors voted against it by a margin of one vote.

Mr Goff estimated about 1500 of the more than 9000 council staff were being paid below the living wage and said the council should be leading by example.

"People are struggling to look after their families properly when they're on the minimum wage. I can't do much about the vast majority of those people but as mayor at least I could meet the obligation of being a good employer, to pay a decent living wage to the people that at the moment are barely on the minimum wage.

"Auckland is the country's most expensive city to live in. We have to recognise that in how we treat our staff.

He said it would be just for staff directly employed by the council, but he would look at broadening that to contractors in future.

Mr Goff said it should be a priority over senior staff salary increases and would result in benefits for the council such as reduced turnover and increased productivity.

At a cost of $4 million it would not be funded from increasing rates but through cutting council costs, Mr Goff said.

"Now this isn't something I can do unilaterally, it would require a vote of a majority on council and I'm conscious of the fact that it was voted down by councillors," he said.

"But I believe if we relate the living wage solely to those employed directly by the council and we fund that out of efficiencies that we find then I can get a majority of councillors to support this."

Glenn stands in front of  an art work of a PSA protest

The Public Service Association's Glenn Barclay Photo: RNZ / Philippa Tolley

The Public Service Association represents about 2500 of the council's employees.

National secretary Glenn Barclay welcomed the announcement.

"What happened in 2013 was very disappointing for us so I think it's great Phil Goff's come out and declared himself [for a] living wage for council staff. We'd obviously like the living wage to be paid to contractors as well but if it's about employees, well, that's a good start.

Wellington City Council became the first council in New Zealand to adopt a living wage for its staff in 2013 and has since considered extending that to contractors.

Mr Barclay said most councils still had a way to go, including Wellington.

"Auckland's lagging behind Wellington, that's for sure. It's the largest city and one of the most expensive places to live in the country, it'd be great if they could recognise the cost that their staff face and their contractors face and pay out accordingly.

He said if the council did make the change it would have a ripple effect.

"That's the model, that's how it's been run overseas, so the more people who do it the better. I don't care if you call it the minimum wage or whatever - in the end if it's enough for people to actually live on then that's what's important.

Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell said while he did not begrudge people earning more, calling it the living wage "turns the clock back to an argument that we thought we'd buried".

Kim Campbellsand in fronto f a wall poster of NZ ferns at Business NZ

Kim Campbell, Chief Executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association. Photo: RNZ / Philippa Tolley

"If [Mr Goff] proposes, if he becomes mayor, to pay poorly paid people more, more power to him."

But the statistics surrounding what a living wage is and who it applies to was fraught with difficulty, he said. "It confuses the underlying economics of the way the pay scale operates and who deserves to be paid more and who doesn't.

"The problem is it has to be seen in the light of our social welfare payments and the whole package - simply putting wages up that way means people will lose their benefits.

"The living wage discussion is a complete diversion from the central theme here. If [Mr Goff] suggests that he wants to pay the poorest paid people who work at the council a larger sum of money then he's got to get ready to pay everyone else more. It's as simple as that."

He said questions needed to be asked about how it would work and whether he could deliver it.

"We wish them all the very best, the Auckland Council is catering to a larger and growing population. We merged seven cities into one, the total head count relative to population is holding steady and the ratepayers want services. Is he going to start shutting down libraries and parks?

Mr Campbell said he'd be very surprised it the electorate was seduced by it.

The question of the living wage will be put to the leading mayoral candidates at the Living Wage People's Assembly this evening.

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