The not quite living wage

Wellington City Council is refusing to be dictated to on its commitment to a living wage policy.

By July 1, all fulltime Wellington City Council staff will be paid a minimum wage of $18.40 an hour.

That is 40c an hour less than the figure the Aotearoa Living Wage movement has defined.

Furthermore, the council's living wage will not apply to any of the city's cleaners, construction crews, museum guides or venue ushers.

Moving those contracted and council controlled organisation staff to the $18.40 base would cost another $2.5 million a year.

Council spokesman Richard MacLean said the lower living wage rate was here for the foreseeable future.

"We've made our decision to increase it to $18.40. It won't be going up to $18.80 in the short term," he said.

He said the $18.40 rate would take effect on July 1 and affect 450 staff, including the city's parking wardens, who become council employees that day.

He said the council was still in control of determining staff pay.

"We're not bound to any agreement with the living wage people. We have decided on what we consider to be a living wage," he said.

"We have not given over our wage negotiating responsibilities to an outside party."

Living Wage Wellington's Lyndy McIntyre said the council's move to $18.40 an hour was a good start.

"They're on the way. They've made a fantastic start, but they're just the first steps," she said.

McIntyre said the biggest step was last December when councillors voted 10-5 to support the principle of all staff being paid the living wage.

But having contracted staff cleaning the toilets "on poverty wages" was still a bad look for the city, she said.

Southern ward councillor Paul Eagle said that though he saw the living wage as a poverty alleviation measure, it would also have a positive effect on the council's staff retention rate.

Over a three-year period, the turnover of council staff had been more than 100 per cent, which Eagle said was unacceptable.

"The organisation needs to recognise there has been a downturn in morale," he said.

Eagle said council had also addressed concerns about supervisors being paid the same wages as those under them when the living wage kicked in.

"They're looking to bump up the pay rates of staff immediately supervising those now on the living wage," he said. "In every situation, the staff will be better off."

Lambton ward councillor Nicola Young said she opposed implementing the living wage because she didn't think it would help those it was targeted at.

"The people who really need the money are on social welfare. By getting the living wage they will lose some of their benefits."

The main beneficiary of the council's move would be central government, because it would face a reduced welfare bill, she said.

"I've always been opposed to the living wage. It's a slogan, not a policy."

Young said council-controlled organisations couldn't afford to implement the living wage.

She said she felt the money would be better spent on social housing or off-peak bus fares.

"I'm determined to give Wellingtonians value for money for their rates and not squander them on feel-good plans.

"The living wage is a monster, because the only way the CCOs can fund it is by asking for more money from council."

Eagle said concerns over the cost of the proposal had been overblown. "What's proposed here is less than 1 per cent of the total wage bill," he said. 

The Wellingtonian