Church campaign labelled hypocrytical
New Zealand churches are not exactly practising what they preach when it comes to their support for the living wage campaign.
The Anglican Church, among others, is publicly endorsing the "Living Wage" campaign despite admitting hundreds of its aged-care employees are getting paid just a whisker above the minimum wage.
The Living Wage Campaign, launched in February, argues that it costs $18.40 an hour for a worker to "live with dignity" and participate in society. The minimum wage is $13.75 an hour.
An unnamed union critic labelled the church's stance "high Anglican hypocrisy" but its leaders are defending its position and say to pay or not to pay is out of their control.
The Government funds rest-home residents through the residential-care subsidy.
The maximum rate per resident is set by the Crown and allocated to providers via contract each year.
Last year the average price paid to aged-care providers for residential care, including dementia care, increased by just 1.08 per cent - a rise so small advocates claim it was a testament to how "grossly underfunded" the sector is.
The majority of the 48,000 workers in New Zealand's aged-care sector earn $14-$15, the Sunday Star-Times understands.
Last week the Star-Times spoke with two caregivers from Anglican aged-care facilities in Christchurch. Both had more than five years' experience but were earning only $14.80 an hour.
Anglican Living runs the Christchurch rest homes. Director Alison Jephson admitted the church's position on the living wage may appear hypocritical, but pay issues were "out of our control".
The current average government-controlled subsidy for a rest home client is $695, including GST, per week, the Ministry of Health said. That sum includes accommodation, meals, laundry services, nursing and health care - "that's what rest homes are expected to survive on", Jephson said.
"We simply don't get enough money. We are shackled by the Government's contract."
The Anglican Church "only really has two options", Jephson said. "We either exit the sector altogether, stop providing employment opportunities and care to the elderly and not be seen as hypocritical, or we can continue doing what we do while we try to lobby for a better deal for everyone."
The only way an aged-care facility can make more money to boost employees' wages would be to charge for additional services provided above and beyond their contract, such as hairdressing or large, studio rooms, Jephson said.
The Methodist Church of New Zealand is also a supporter of the living wage but general secretary David Bush said that the church would become "insolvent" if it adopted the policy.
"We are not in a position to be able to pay everybody the living wage because there is not enough funding in the government contracts; some things are just out of our control," he said.
"At the end of the day the church is not wanting to make a profit, it is just wanting to not run at a loss."
New Zealand Nurses Organisation industrial adviser David Wait said the overall responsibility to lift the wages of aged-care workers "lies squarely with the Government".
"The sector is certainly not funded to the point where they can afford to pay a living wage. It is underfunded and it always has been underfunded," he said.
Wait said the churches had made a commitment to their staff by endorsing the living wage campaign and there was now an "obligation" for them to adopt it.
But, "that commitment can only be fulfilled if the Government pays", he said.
The Ministry of Health said it would be inappropriate to answer questions about whether it would support New Zealand's 661 aged-care facilities becoming living wage employers.
LOGO BACKS LIVING WAGE
Living wage Aotearoa New Zealand is trademarking a logo to differentiate between organisations that support the campaign and those which adopt the living wage.
Campaign convener Annie Newman said an accreditation system and an advisory board were being developed to ensure organisations that claim to be living wage employers meet the criteria.
The board, comprising business leaders, union representatives and community and faith-based religious groups, would assess organisations for accreditation.
"There is a difference from supporting the campaign to actually implementing it but it is very clear that some people have the ability to pay and others don't.
"Some of the welfare organisations that support us are running off the smell of an oily rag and just because they can't afford to pay doesn't mean they can't have a say about a social justice issue," she said.
BY THE NUMBERS
The living wage is $18.40 per hour
The minimum wage is $13.75 per hour
Anglican aged-care workers are paid $14.80 per hour
- © Fairfax NZ News