Council may give more staff living wage

Wellington City Council is proposing to commit a further $500,000 of ratepayers' money towards paying its staff a living wage.

The commitment would see about 450 council employees, who are set to be bumped up to $18.40 a hour from next month, keep earning that rate until at least the middle of 2015.

The new rate will apply only to direct employees of the council, such as those who operate its parks, gardens, recreation and library services.

Staff who work for council-controlled organisations and companies with council contracts will not be covered.

But councillors will also debate next week whether to ask the boards of its council-controlled organisations to consider introducing a living wage rate to their lowest-paid staff.

The boards will be asked to report back on the financial impact of getting a living wage off the ground from July 2015.

In June, the council set aside $250,000 to introduce a living wage for staff for the first six months of 2014. Next week, during deliberations for the 2014-15 Annual Plan, it is expected to earmark another $500,000.

The extra money is expected to come from an impending shake-up of how council-controlled organisations do business.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, who campaigned on introducing a living wage, said it would help staff on lower rates lift their skills and participate more fully in society. "We want people to be proud of working for a council that emphasises these values."

Deputy Mayor Justin Lester said the living wage would also help improve the council's workplace culture and reduce turnover, currently about 30 per cent a year.

"We recognise a number of staff employed in our CCOs or contractors are not covered under this initial proposal and we're committed to making sure they're not left out."

The national figure for a living wage, defined as the minimum required for people to be able to participate meaningfully in society, is set at $18.40 an hour. The minimum wage is $13.75.

The Rev Brian Dawson, spokesman for lobby group Living Wage Wellington, said it was encouraging to see the council's commitment to ensuring workers employed by CCOs or contractors were not left behind.

"Many workers employed in council-controlled organisations and by contractors are on very low rates of pay, and it is essential that they are brought up to a living wage also," he said.

"We would like their pay to be at a living wage now, but we will work with council between now and next July to make sure they are included in the new Long-Term Plan."

A council spokesman said the onus was not being put on CCOs to introduce a living wage now, because their future structure was still uncertain.

Mr Dawson said Wellington had one of the highest average household incomes in the country but also the biggest gap between rich and poor. "Our city has the capacity to address poverty and inequality, and council can take a lead in this."



With a baby on the way and bills piling up, Mark Spaull does not think he will last much longer in his council job, earning just $14.40 an hour.

Mr Spaull works as a parking warden for Parkwise. The company monitors car parks for Wellington City Council under contract, meaning he will not see anything extra in his pay packet when the council's living wage comes into force on January 1.

Mr Spaull works between 60 and 75 hours a week to earn enough money to survive.

He says it is tough, especially now that his fiancee is due to give birth in February.

Small things like going to the movies or out for dinner are luxuries the couple cannot afford - all their money went on rent, food and bills, he said.

"It's all the little things that a lot of people take for granted that we can't do. We don't get paid enough," he said. "We're only just managing to get together all the baby gear we need."

Mr Spaull said earning a living wage, for him, would mean being able to cut back his hours, hopefully learning a few new skills and spending a decent amount of time with his new daughter.

He was encouraged by the council's push for an expansion of its living wage policy by 2015, but he would prefer to see it happen sooner. "If I had to wait until 2015 then I'd have to look for another job because working 75 hours a week for $14.40 is not worth it."

The Dominion Post