15 Jun 2020

Union urges government to honour living wage promise to contract workers

7:37 pm on 15 June 2020

An Auckland cleaner who works more than 13 hours a day is among those calling on the government to pay its contracted workers the living wage.

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(File image). Photo: 123rf

Back in 2017, Labour campaigned on paying the living wage - first to core government workers, then rolling it out to contractors over time.

E tū assistant national secretary Annie Newman said Covid-19 had highlighted the crucial role of cleaners and security workers, including the difficulty and risk involved, but their pay was too low.

"As we rebuild our economy, we must no longer accept that low wages are okay for anyone, especially essential workers. The government has a responsibility to play a leadership role here," Newman said.

"They have done the right thing by paying the Living Wage to directly employed workers in the core public service. Now's the time to honour the promise to their cleaners and security guards - they are the stars who are shining bright through Covid-19."

Rose Kavapalu is one of the contractors who is struggling to make ends meet.

Working 65 hours a week at two cleaning jobs for $18.90 per hour, she still could not afford her $400 weekly rent.

Kavapalu was forced to move in with her elderly parents, along with her sick husband and children.

The lack of time to unwind and spend with family in addition to the stress of covering the family's expenses took its toll, Kavapalu said.

"I feel like I am carrying around a sack of rocks everywhere I go. It's like a burden, forever," she said.

"I work for 13-and-a-half hours per day. It's mostly working time. The homely things I have to squeeze in the best I can."

She said she had to wake up at 7am everyday to take care of her parents and husband, including take them to the doctor, then head off to her two jobs, only returning about midnight.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told TVNZ this morning the government paid core employees the living wage, but there was "catch up" to do for contractors.

"We're having to do a lot of catch up because of the low wages that existed when we arrived. We are doing that alongside those wage increases but, as I say, some of them we are having to deal with as they come up for negotiation," Ardern said.

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