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'Living wage' very much on the menu

SHANE COWLISHAW
Last updated 05:00 24/07/2014
LIVING WAGE
CAMERON BURNELL/ Fairfax NZ

ETHICAL MOVE: La Boca Loca is the first Wellington employer to become accredited with the Living Wage scheme, paying its staff a minimum of $18.80 an hour. Staff include, back from left, Patrick Miller, Rodrigo Quiarte, Andy Brophy, Isaac Sotelo; front, from left, Tanya Shearer, owner Lucas Putnam, front centre, and Cristian Carrizo. 

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It's going to cost Lucas Putnam an arm and a leg, but the restaurant owner says paying his staff a living wage is the ethical thing to do.

Mexican restaurant La Boca Loca opened in 2011 and now employs 18 staff, who will all be paid at least $18.80 an hour after the Miramar business became the first Wellington-based company to be accredited under the living wage scheme.

Until now, Putnam has paid most of his staff between $15 and $15.50 an hour.

When he started the restaurant, he believed his pay rates were fair but, after hearing about the living wage campaign, realised he could do better.

He began crunching numbers and recalls the moment when he announced to his staff they would be getting a rise. "It was really, really positive. Some people started crying, some people were just overjoyed . . . some told me, ‘This changes my life so much.' I get a bit emotional just thinking about it actually."

The move does not come cheaply, with Putnam estimating it will cost more than $1000 a week.

But he expects his staff to be happier and better workers.

Chef Jennifer Childs, who at 20 has just moved out of home, said the pay rise would make a huge difference in helping meet living costs, especially transport. "It's a huge thing, it's amazing news and you feel appreciated . . . it's a lot more incentive to come to work."

Other national organisations such as Greenpeace are also accredited and Wellington City Council recently moved to pay some of its staff $18.40 an hour - the amount originally set as the living wage.

But Wellington Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Raewyn Bleakley said the living wage concept was flawed, especially when adopted by the council, which was 45 per cent funded by business rates and levies. "Wage increases should be about performance and productivity. This is not what the living wage is based on. The message the living wage sends is that there is no incentive to invest in your education, improving skills or your future because the living wage cuts across all of those - it's a blunt and ineffective instrument."

While the concept was well intentioned, Bleakley said the chamber's members were encouraged to pay workers what their businesses could afford, on merit and success.

Living Wage Wellington spokesman Brian Dawson said that, while it meant higher wage costs, it was also likely to reduce staff turnover and the impact of having to train new staff.

 

ACCREDITATION

To be accredited as a living wage employer, a firm must pay all employees the current rate determined by Living Wage Aotearoa NZ.

All indirectly paid workers employed by contractors used by the employer regularly must also receive it, as well as staff at franchises or associated companies owned by the employer. The final caveat is that union access is available to all employees.

Accreditation is valid for 12 months, or until the living wage rate is changed.

The rate is assessed every year, and every five years a detailed review is undertaken. 

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- The Dominion Post

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