GUEST BLOG: Mat Danaher – The Time for a Living Wage is NOW

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The announcement this morning of the revised rate for the Living Wage, $20.20 an hour comes at a time when the concept is undergoing a sea change in terms of impact and the national debate.

Auckland Council are about to consult on introducing the Living Wage for directly employed council and Council Controlled Organisation staff. Wellington City Council are going even further and introducing for contracted staff as well, alongside those already benefiting.  Other councils in the Wellington Region are following their lead.

This is thanks to the Living Wage Movement successfully engaging with, and organising thousands of union members, community leaders, people of faith, and employers, around the country for the 2016 local body elections which saw a raft of sympathetic politicians get elected across the country.

A few weeks ago, I spoke with a contract cleaner Ned Tipa in Porirua. He and his wife normally work about 58 hours a week each, sometimes over seven days to support themselves and their children, they’ve done that for years and the investment has paid off, raising kids who have gone on to study and have promising careers ahead.

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When Ned left school, the future looked bright for him, he started working in track maintenance for Kiwirail, a tough, skilled, and reasonably well paid job, with good prospects and security. That all changed when two years in, a life changing workplace injury thanks to our “she’ll do” culture wrecked Ned’s ankle preventing him from doing any heavy work in future.

Ned is a cheerful, optimistic, and hardworking bloke and didn’t let that stop him. Once he could walk again, albeit with a limp he started work as a cleaner.

Great. Unfortunately, all too often, cleaners are paid as little as their employers can get away with, which means they make awesome sacrifices to provide for their families. The biggest sacrifice is that of time, you can’t win more time in the lotto. Time that should be spent taking the kids to play down the reserve, or on the beach, time spent just hanging out with your loved ones, watching telly, and talking rubbish. Ned says that if he earned just four or so bucks an hour more, he would be able to spend time with his friends and whanau, and maybe retire a little earlier.

What is particularly powerful about the idea of the Living Wage, is that you must be a special sort of bastard to oppose the idea that people should be paid enough to live on, and most people are not like that. The evidence for that is among the growing number of employers that are talking with the unions about how they can move towards the Living Wage. It is plain to see in the number of decent ordinary Kiwis who are saying through their community groups, and their faith institutions, and not just their unions – that working people deserve to be able to live, and not just exist.

Even this treasury report  Using IDI Data to Estimate Fiscal Impacts of Better Social Sector Performance (don’t worry I read it so you don’t have to) uses the Living Wage as a key metric to identify whether young Kiwis are “on track”.

Of course, there are some special bastards out there. The Taxpayers “Union”, in perhaps the only time they have demonstrated concern for parking officers, have just claimed that the Living Wage cost seventeen parkies their jobs in Wellington City Council. This is totally untrue, what I think they have noticed is that at around the same time as the Living Wage decision, the council decided to bring the parking officers back in house, not something we would oppose. Unfortunately, they used a flawed process that was challenged by the unions and the Living Wage Movement at the time, and 5 parking officers did lose their jobs because of that. I can only imagine that Jordan William’s carefully timed press release was dreamed up with the aid of some tinfoil and a rusty spoon.

What this true story demonstrates is that the Living Wage, is a powerful idea, that can unite decent people from across our society, but that it’s just the beginning and that workers need to organise through their unions, alongside our new allies in the community to defend and extend our rights beyond that.

For now, though please keep an eye on the Living Wage Movement website for their link to participate in Auckland Council’s public consultation on the Living Wage, so people like Ned can spend a bit more time with their friends and whanau.
Mat Danaher is Campaign Lead Organiser for E tū if you want to find out more about the unions work in the Living Wage Movement you can email livingwage@etu.nz 

12 COMMENTS

  1. Bring back our assets and resources to be completely under our steerage and control, asset strip those who swindled them off us and imprison accordingly, purge out the foreign owned banksters, flatten those scum who profit from poverty who lurk in poorer neighbourhoods like the money lenders, ‘credit control’ agencies and loan sharks, introduce massive speculative property taxes, ban foreign ownership of NZ Farmlands and create a Ministry of Insurance and Public Liability to run the commercial pirates out of this safe harbour.

    There. That’s a start.

    Now, lets talk about a living wage?

    Otherwise any ‘ living wage’ will be nothing more than subsidies for the above and low waged people will be just as impoverished as ever.
    I bet you anything you like that the recent increase to a $20 + an hour minimum wage will herald in an increase in mortgage rates.
    Discussing ANY increase in wages of any kind in all permutations before the above is done is putting the nag before the cart.

    And this is interesting IMV:

    The Guardian.
    George Clooney and John Prendergast

    British banks are go-betweens in global conflict. This can be stopped
    High-level corruption and illicit trade in natural resources depend on banks across the EU.
    Putting financial pressure on them can help save lives

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/20/dirty-money-africa-atrocities-uk-banks

  2. stop and think

    living wage 2014/2015 $18.80 p/h

    living wage 2015/2016 $19.25 p/h

    living wage 2016/2017 $20.20 p/h

    anyone remember the stagflation of the 70s?

    a living wage on its own is not the solution….we need to close up the spread at the same time (and/or implement REAL progressive taxation)….by all means implement a living wage BUT at he same time bring in a highest to lowest ratio….no more stratospheric CEO salary packages ( and control the inflation that way)

    • Personally I agree, with your proposal to reduce pay at the very top Frank, however not everyone in the Living Wage Movement would, so at this time we focus on that single demand. I’m not convinced the LW alone would lead to stagflation anyway, but I still agree that we need real progressive taxation.

    • The people who run the system call it inflation but it’s not really inflation at all (other than inflation of financial Ponzi schemes and bubbles): it’s devaluation of money.

      There is deliberate lowering of the value of money that ordinary citizens acquire (normally through hard work) in order to keep the fraudulent financial system -predicated on creating money out of thin air and charging interest on it- going just a little longer.

      Since fiat money is now a proxy for energy (largely fossil fuel energy) it naturally follows that the financial system will begin to collapse when the global decline in net energy reaches a critical point. That point is likely to be reached in the next two years.

      James Howard Kunstler summed up the predicament (again) recently:

      ‘…..since most of the things we do and produce in this economy are based on cheap oil — with no reality-based prospect of replacing it with so-called “renewables” or as yet undiscovered energy rescue remedies — we can’t generate enough wealth to maintain anything close to our assumed standard of living. We can’t even generate enough wealth to pay the interest on the debt we’ve racked up in order to hide our growing energy predicament. And that, in a nutshell, is what will blow up the financial system. And when that department of the economy goes, the rest will follow.

      So, the real issue hidden in plain sight is how America — indeed all the so-called “developed” nations — are going to navigate to a stepped-down mode of living, without slip-sliding all the way into a dark age, or something worse…..’

      http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/fumbling-towards-collapse/

      • fiat money and low/zero interest as a proxy for dense energy is simply another way of saying borrowing from the future….and both are broadly true.

        However we are discussing the (re)distribution of that resource (as represented by money)….if we delve back too far into the fundamentals it becomes obvious the entire system is flawed and will ultimately collapse….does that mean we don’t attempt to address the distribution question?….at times I wonder if there’s any point myself.

  3. Funny how the argument against a living wage has now become “people will lose benefits” – is this because there is really strong proof that these increases DON”T in fact led to job losses? Or is it embarrassment that this Living Wage increase has been released on the same day a local public servant got a 25% pay rise bring his salary up to $1 million?

    p.s. wasn’t the rising minimum wage/ living wage leading to job loses argument always a shallow one? Surely if your (one) wage is enough to live on, doesn’t that mean you’re not going to need to take multiple jobs to survive, thus leaving some jobs for other people? Just a thought…

  4. It’s hard to disagree with the desire to support our fellow citizens with a living wage but I’m not sure this is something that can easily be fixed with legislation. Solutions are going to be more complex than this, consider the following…

    I’ve recently returned from the UK where I encountered one of the “blood thirsty” bunch of middle managers I’ve ever had to deal with. They were a global company specialising in electrical component distribution who felt threatened by a strong union presence in their warehouse. Three years ago the workforce (175 people in one very large warehouse) asked for a 5% pay rise after not receiving pay rises for the previous 5 years.

    A very reasonable request – No? Well management’s response was devastating. 6 months ago this exact same warehouse now has 15 people, with the other 160 people unemployed.

    What did they do to achieve this? They “blackened” the warehouse, where there were people there are now industrial robots, picking and placing 24 hours a day 365 days a week.

    This is what the workforce is up against – living wages will be the least of our problems.

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