24 Jun 2015

Mops waved for 'living wage'

2:57 pm on 24 June 2015

Marchers took to the streets in Wellington today to show their support of the council paying all its staff a "living wage".

Hundreds of protesters gathered in support of a living wage for low paid contracted council staff.

Photo: RNZ / Daniela Maoate-Cox

The pay of about 450 council employees was increased last year to $18.40 an hour, and the council has voted to extend that to all staff employed via a contractor.

The living wage is now calculated to be $19.25.

Councillors voted to increase funding in the long-term-plan to lift the wages of staff with council-controlled organisations, including the Wellington Zoo and museum trust employees.

It would also extend the wage to include workers employed by a contractor, including security staff, recycling workers and cleaners.

Linda Sharatt is a contracted cleaner who works 40 hours a week at Victoria University for the minimum wage of $14.75 an hour.

She said, even with a full-time job, it was tough to make ends meet.

"Without the living wage and the help from the council I'd be on the street," she said.

"I live in a council flat because I can't afford private rent so I'm reliant on the government to live on a low rent."

A living wage would mean Ms Sharatt could afford to pay her rent, food and power bills without worrying, she said.

Contracted cleaner, Mele Peaua.

Mele Peaua: "When you don't have a living wage, you have no time with your children..." Photo: RNZ / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Mele Peaua has worked as a cleaner for 15 years - at one point juggling three jobs, which often finished in the early hours of the morning.

"When you don't have a living wage, you have no time with your children because you sleep when they leave and you work when they come home. You can't see each other."

She said being on a living wage meant she could focus more on her family.

"You can afford to get healthy food for the children, help with their education and still have time to spend with them. When you don't have a living wage, you have to get more jobs to afford to live."

Ms Peaua said earning the living wage meant she could be the parent she wanted to be and she wanted other organisations to follow the council's example.

Helen Kelly.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said thousands of workers in Wellington were still missing out on a living wage. Photo: Supplied

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said it was a significant step for a major employer in the capital to take the lead but there are many who are still missing out.

"There are thousands of workers in Wellington City employed privately, who are not earning a living wage. Three hundred thousand people in this country earn on or near the minimum wage, and bargaining has been destroyed by various bits of legislation."

Wellington City Council, which voted in favour of the extra funding nine to six, is the first in the country to pay its employees a living wage.

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