Call for minimum wage increase

03:26, May 23 2012

Tales of people working 70 hour weeks and still struggling to afford food were heard at the launch of a campaign calling for a higher minimum wage today.

Campaigners are pressuring the government to increase the minimum wage from $13.50, an amount they say does not cover basic life necessities or allow workers time for their families.

The campaign - which follows others in Britain, America and Canada - has the backing of the Service and Food Workers' Union (SFWU), along with more than 60 community organisations and churches.

 "A living wage is one that enables all workers to provide the necessities of life and participate in their communities,'' SFWU national secretary John Ryall said.

Speakers at the Living Wage Aotearoa launch in Ponsonby were greeted with cheers, claps and waiata from a  gathering of young and old.

One woman said she was considering moving back to Tonga because her family was better off there.

Otahuhu resident Palutea Talofo is among those who signed their name to the campaign today.

The Tongan mother of four is a commercial cleaner on minimum wage. She works 30 hours a week, the most her employer will offer her, she said.

Her grown-up children are in factory work but are forced to live in Tafolo's three-bedroom house as they cannot afford the bond for homes of their own.

"The lucky thing is that they don't have children yet. There's six of us in a three-bedroom house, some people are sleeping in the garage."

Tafolo earns $325 a week in-the-hand. After paying $130 on rent, $35 for power and $100 in loan repayments, she has $60 left for food, petrol and clothes.

"Sometimes I don't have anything left and I have to borrow from my son or daughter.

"I always dream of a holiday, but you can't have a holiday with this."

Tafolo's children asked her why they had moved from Tonga, where they were living an easier life.

"I said it was hard because we were starting out, but it's gotten worse."

In Tonga, the family owned their own home. Tafolo and her husband are considering moving back.

Mangere Budgeting Services chief executive Darryl Evans said many people are working seven days a week but still relying on food parcels.

"Thousands of New Zealanders are queuing up at food banks, a number are requesting them on a daily basis."

Workers are too scared to use heaters because of the cost of power, and households with up to three families living in them are becoming more common.

About 150,000 New Zealanders left for  Australia last year and more will go if the situation did not improve, Evans said.

"$13.50 an hour certainly doesn't cut the mustard."


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