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Report identifies NZ's living wage

Published: 5:15AM Thursday February 14, 2013 Source: ONE News

A report released today identifies $18.40 an hour as the New Zealand living wage.

The Kiwi Living Wage Campaign says New Zealanders can't live off anything less, although there are claims raising wages will lead to redundancies and price hikes.
The woman behind a successful Living Wage Campaign in London says businesses stand to gain by paying their employees more.

Metro Vancouver Alliance organiser Deborah Littman told TV ONE's Breakfast in London they had hundreds of employers, including PriceWaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, big banks and big hospitals, paying a living wage and they almost always made financial gains.

"That's because when you pay people properly turn-over goes down, absenteeism goes down, people are better trained, you keep them longer, their productivity goes up so rather than them losing money by paying the living wage they actually were gaining."

She said the campaign isn't about increasing the minimum wage.

"This isn't a statutory rate that you're asking every single employer to pay, you're asking those employers that have the ability to pay to pay it and those smaller employers that really might not be able to we are asking them to support it."

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A small organic food manufacturer, Tonzu, has been attempting to pay a living wage already.

Co-owner Jesse Chalmers told TV ONE's Breakfast they have a target of two thirds of the average wage, and will be upping their wage bill in response to the report's findings.

"For a small business, or a medium business even, staff turn-over is actually a huge burden, retraining, disruption to the process, everyone feels it when you lose staff so paying the living wage staff feel more invested in their work, they're proud, we obviously have a lower turnover."

She said they have not had to cut jobs to pay a living wage to staff.

Chalmers said she understands if some companies cannot afford it, but says "there are plenty of companies that can afford to lift their wages just a little more so that people can live a little more comfortably".

Getting by

Service and Food Workers Union National Secretary, John Ryall says "the report confirms what workers have increasingly been saying".

"They can't live on the minimum wage and this provides evidence that workers need at least $18.40 just to get by in New Zealand."

Ryall says today is an "historic day" for thousands of low-paid workers and their families

The Report of an Investigation into Defining a Living Wage for New Zealand was prepared by Charles Waldegrave and Peter King of the Family Centre Social Policy Research Unit, who are best known for their work in establishing the New Zealand poverty line.

"The report establishes a minimal figure for a worker in New Zealand to not only provide the basic necessities but to have a decent, but modest family and community life," said Waldegrave.

"We are very confident that this figure is robust as the New Zealand living wage. The report provides a national figure and does not address regional differences, including the housing crisis in Auckland," he said.

The report defines the living wage as "the income necessary to provide not only the basic necessities, but to enable workers to participate in society".

Lead by example

Labour's Chris Hipkins said a living wage is something New Zealand should be aspiring to, and should be worked towards over time.

The Public Service Association is calling on the Government, as the country's largest employer and funder of public services, to take the lead and provide a living wage to workers.

The campaign for a living wage is a joint community and union campaign and the report has received strong support from across the community.

"The living wage is an effective response to poverty," says Rt Rev Ray Coster, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand.

"Of the 270,000 New Zealand children who live in poverty many will have a parent who earns a low income," he said.

"The living wage will reduce the number of hours parents need to work to earn a decent standard of living allowing them more time to spend with their families."

Living Wage Aotearoa New Zealand was launched in May 2012 and now includes 130 community organisations, faith-based groups and unions.

Social media feedback

Scott Fergusson commented on the ONE News Facebook page: "Raise the minimum wage to 18.40 then shops and services will just bump up all the prices to compensate so you will be no better off... If you want more money get better training; don't expect the government to give you a pay raise."

But, Debra Lord, said training doesn't guarantee a job.

"I know so many people with qualifications who cant get jobs in the areas they are trained for.

"Studying doesnt always result in a great Paid job And also studying means much less income than min wage."

Monica Kershaw said the problem is also affordability.

"Things like the price of food and petrol means that even those on medium wages must budget more carefully."