Wellington mayor lays down challenge to rivals - who tell him it's meaningless

12:38 pm on 10 September 2019

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester has challenged other mayoral candidates to commit to continue paying the living wage to council staff.

Wellington City Mayor Justin Lester announces the Let's Get Wellington Moving project

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester. Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

But two councillors running for his job say the challenge is meaningless, saying they won't reverse the living wage policy and Mr Lester should be focusing on more pressing issues.

The council had a committed agreement that the living wage continue to be paid to council staff and contractors.

Mr Lester said he wanted to make sure that living wage would not be rolled back, for the sake of the "many hundreds" of council staff being paid it.

A new mayor might not be keen to see the policy continue, he said, as contracts rolled over or were signed afresh.

"That's a budget decision and of course if you've got a mayor who's opposed to the Living Wage and consistently voted against it, of course that's a risk."

He said if he was re-elected he would advocate for more employers in the city to adopt the wage.

Councillor and mayoral candidate Andy Foster, who had opposed the wage in the past, said if he was elected he would not roll the policy back.

"I'm very conscious that paying Living Wage is coming from the pockets of people who in some cases don't themselves earn a living wage, but I don't think you can take away from the people already earning that."

The council had already made a decision on the policy and the mayor should be talking about other issues facing Wellington.

"Things like maybe getting Wellington moving, things like addressing our exploding budget, things like making sure that we actually provide the housing that people want."

Another councillor and mayoral candidate Diane Calvert said there was no good reason for Mr Lester to be raising the living wage issue as it was done and dusted.

She would not roll it back if elected.

She said Mr Lester seemed more interested in manufacturing identities for the capital than he was in getting things done.

"We want to be the capital of culture, the te reo capital of the world, we want to be the fairest capital, and now he wants to make the city the living wage capital.

"This is not what our economy needs in terms of putting the council's energy into convincing all employers to be living wage employers."

head of Wellington Chamber of Commerce

Wellington Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Milford. Photo: Supplied

The Wellington Chamber of Commerce strongly opposed the council adopting the wage back in 2016.

Chief executive John Milford said the debate had changed, because by 2021, the minimum wage was expected to be $20, while the current living wage was $21.15.

"Our perspective is that the minimum wage and the living wage are actually becoming closer and closer so we predict at some point in the future one will be the same as the other."

Mr Milford said most businesses wanted to pay staff as much as they could afford, anyway.

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