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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org