Wellington council becomes country's largest living wage employer

8:21 pm on 3 September 2018

Wellington City Council has become the first council in the country to get accreditation as a living wage employer, joining another 110 employers across New Zealand.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester Photo: RNZ - Rebekah Parsons-King

That's because the council is now fully committed to not just paying its staff a living wage, but to paying its contractors $20.55 an hour.

It comes after a five year battle from campaigners.

The living wage is $20.55, $4.05 more than the minimum wage.

For people like Malcolm Hirini, that $4 made a huge difference.

"We've been able to travel, we've been able to spend more time together, I've reconnected with whānau down south, I've been able to go down and take part in their festivals and learn about their whakapapa, so I know where I'm from."

Mr Hirini had been on the living wage since 2014, when the council brought parking services back in-house, where they were previously contracting them out.

Now working a 40 hour week where he was previously working up to 70, Mr Hirini said he was using the extra time to spend with his children.

"When you're working so hard you miss some of their years. My children are now adults.

"I'm doing different things than I would have done before, had I had the opportunity."

Living Wage community organiser Lyndy McIntyre was the driving force behind the move.

Getting the council on board was an historical moment, she said.

"It's the biggest living wage employer and it's the first council to come on board, but for the people of Wellington it's also fantastic news, because the people of Wellington have been behind this for five to six years."

But there was still work to do in making sure everyone was paid a decent wage, she said.

"Let's start with the wealthy corporates, let's start with the big banks for example: Can they afford to pay their lowest paid workers the living wage? I think they can, and we'd really like to see them lead the way."

It had been five years since the council started paying staff a living wage, and mayor Justin Lester was proud his council had been able to commit to rolling it out to more contractors.

"When employees are on a minimum wage and if they've worked for the organisation for a long time, it's a very subsistence living.

"We want to make sure people feel included, that they can support their children, that they can also afford to have some time in the day because they can hopefully work fewer hours."

Cleaning and security contractors were already getting the living wage, and as old agreements were renewed they would become living wage contracts, Mr Lester said.