250 health board staff exist on less than living wage

More than 250 staff at MidCentral District Health Board are earning less than the living wage, a number the union representing health sector workers has described as "an absolute scandal".

Health assistants, data entry clerks, administration staff and store people are among the 268 employees paid below the living wage, calculated to be $18.40 an hour. The living wage is defined as the amount workers need to survive on, while also participating in society.

Public Service Association Palmerston North organiser John Shennan said the growth of poverty in New Zealand meant there was a working poor, who despite being employed for a 40 hour week, do not earn enough to live on.

"It is a scandal, an absolute scandal," he said. "A lot of those clerical workers [at MidCentral] are key functionaries who make the health system work, booking and scheduling clerks for example.

"They are people who ensure the doctors, nurses and Allied Health workers are able to do their work in an organised and timely way - without them it would be chaos."

Figures obtained by the Manawatu Standard under the Official Information Act show administration and clerical staff, including data entry clerks and ward support staff, make up the majority of those paid under $18.40, with 205 workers in that category. There are 28 health assistants, including tertiary students, who undertake patient and non-patient related tasks such as cleaning.

Thirteen students, typically under 16 years old, are employed in school holidays or after school for tobacco retail compliance activities.

And 22 store people, who undertake various packing and delivery tasks, are also paid less than the living wage.

Mr Shennan said the PSA believed the average annual salary of a clerical worker at Palmerston North Hospital is about $36,000, "and they are pretty much locked at that level".

"We have recently had discussions with management and made some improvements for a few of those staff - about 50 - and they have received increases, but it still doesn't bring them above the living wage," he said. "We are in negotiations for a multi-employer collective agreement for the seven DHBs in the lower North Island, and one of our key claims in that is to address the living wage."

Last week Mayor Jono Naylor and chief executive Paddy Clifford rejected calls for the Palmerston North City Council to adopt the living wage for its staff. Up to 136 workers are earning less than $18.40, but paying them the living wage would cost an extra $353,000.

The Wellington City Council has decided to phase in the living wage for its staff from January 1, at a cost of about $750,000 a year.

MidCentral District Health Board did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.

Manawatu Standard