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Anger in Auckland Council meeting over living wage

JAMES IRELAND
Last updated 13:43 31/07/2014

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Auckland councillor Cathy Casey has levelled her anger at mayor Len Brown , saying it was his fault the living wage did not pass through the council last year.

At today's Auckland Council governing body meeting chief executive Stephen Town presented his review of how the council sets staff wages.

Casey questioned the merits of the paper, saying it does not address the fact that some council contractors are paid below the minimum wage. 

The living wage would have fixed the problem, she said.

''We were on the verge of making the decision on December 13 and, forgive me, but I believe it was poor chairing by the mayor that saw the living wage fail. It was a very emotive meeting and I was devastated.''

Brown called the meeting to order and refused to get into a discussion on the issue.

Town's report showed the council's wage increases were only slightly above the national average.

Its 10,616 staff have been given an overall pay increase of 9 per cent over the past five years, 3 per cent above the national average.

The total wage bill for 2013 was $693 million, 52 per cent of all money collected through rates.

That bill is expected to hit $719m this year.

Councillor Cameron Brewer hit out at the rising level of staff and put forward an amendment calling for a review into staff levels and whether a cap can be set.

The mayor pushed back and disallowed the amendment, saying that would be dealt with in the Long-Term Plan discussions.

The report compared the number of staff earning more than $100,000 a year to private companies of comparable size and to larger local councils.

The council group, which includes the council-controlled organisations such as Auckland Transport and Watercare, has 1387 staff earning more than $100,000 - or 14.1 per cent of the total - and four earning over $500,000.

Christchurch City Council is the only other authority to have staff on more than $500,000 - one.

The only council with a higher percentage of staff on such wages is the Greater Wellington Regional Council at 18.1 per cent.

Auckland Council's human resources director Alan Brookbanks was on hand at today's meeting to try to put some perspective into the matter.

He told councillors the size and scope of the council meant the salaries of top staff have to be commercially competitive in order to attract people with the necessary experience.

Brookbanks said staff on pay bands between $30,000 and $35,000 have had substantial increases of up to 6 per cent to help them cope with living in New Zealand's most expensive city.

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