2 Jun 2017

Council workers 'rapt' at living wage victory

8:03 pm on 2 June 2017

The Auckland Council's decision to increase the pay of their lowest paid workers is an astounding victory, living wage campaigners say.

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The pay increase is expected to cost the council $2 million in the first year. Photo: 123rf

Councillors passed the living wage policy yesterday afternoon and it means council workers will see their wages increase to about $21 an hour in two years' time.

All of them will be paid at least $18 an hour by this September, increasing each year until 2019.

Public Service Association delegate Chris Randall, who has worked at the council for more than 16 years, said he was delighted by the news.

"It's a good thing in terms of recognising that Auckland in particular is a very costly place to live these days, with the housing crisis and rentals... are very, very high," he said.

Mr Randall said library, leisure and event workers, many of whom currently earn just above the minimum wage, would benefit the most from the policy.

About 2000 people, including those working in Auckland Transport and Watercare, will get the pay rise, which is estimated to cost nearly $2 million in the first year.

However the policy did not cover contractors, volunteers and trainees, something Living Wage Movement Aotearoa New Zealand said needed to change.

National convener Annie Newman said private companies paid their employees lower wages in order to secure contracts from the council.

"The winning contractor has to deliver the service in the price they won the contract for and that means that a lot of those workers are very low paid," she said.

Ms Newman said the majority of the rubbish collectors and cleaners hired by the council were contractors.

For customer support representative Deidre Schwalger, the decision was life-changing.

She has been working as a customer support representative for the council's parks, pools and leisure for the past five years.

Ms Schwalger lives with her three daughters and three grandchildren because it was too expensive to live separately in Auckland.

"I'm so, so, so rapt to hear about it," she said. "It's going to mean that I'm going to be able to provide more choices for [her family] to make, maybe private lessons in education."

Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety Michael Woodhouse said in a statement that if employers could afford to pay more than the minimum wage then they should, however he said ultimately the decision was up to them.

The current living wage is $20.20 an hour.

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