John Key's cleaner campaigns for better wages

KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 20:13 05/10/2011
Sosefina Masoe
NOT ENOUGH: Jaine Ikurere and Sosefina Masoe say their low wages are not enough to cover living costs.

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The prime minister's cleaner earns 50 cents more than the minimum wage to keep his Beehive office tidy, but believes she, and her colleagues, are worth more.

Jaine Ikurere earns $14 an hour as a supervisor of Parliamentary cleaning staff, but her staff are on the minimum wage.

She joined Parliament's other cleaners in Labour's caucus room yesterday to push for a $15 an hour minimum wage.

Ms Ikurere said she believed cleaners deserved at least $15.

She has 11 grandchildren and worries about how she will fund their educational and other needs.

Sosefina Masoe, who works cleaning the Police College in Porirua, was also at the meeting yesterday.

She has four teenage children and four grandchildren in her Porirua state house and earns the current minimum wage, $13.50, which she says is about $453.34 in the hand a week.

By the time she pays $250 in rent, $90 for power and $70 for petrol to get to and from work, she has about $43 left to pay for groceries.

That usually consists of budget canned spaghetti and baked beans, cheap bread, oats, noodles and margarine.

''This is what our low wages can afford. It's budget food, it's not healthy," she told MPs and fellow Service and Food Union representatives.

''The cost of everything is going up, we can't afford to feed our families with $13.50 an hour any more.''

Labour leader Phil Goff said the minimum wage had gone up just 25c in the past year, while the price of basic necessities had increased at a much higher rate. Labour is campaigning on raising the minimum wage to $15 and taking GST off fresh fruit and vegetables.

A lot of New Zealanders were struggling to put food on the table while he had got a $300 tax cut and the Prime Minister a $1000 tax cut, he said. Increasing the minimum wage to $15 was "not a hell of a lot to ask".

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the cleaners were brave to be exposing their conditions to the world. Her party wants an immediate minimum wage rise to $15 and then an annual increase set in law.

The cleaners held a lunch for MPs and media in Labour's caucus room so they could bring their own food. They said they could not afford the catering costs incurred for events held in other areas of Parliament.

Prime Minister John Key said the cleaners' pay was an employment matter and all he could say was they did a good job.

"We try and make sure as a Government that people are paid as fairly as possible."

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He said National wanted the minimum wage increased, but said it must be balanced against the risk of job losses.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Sosefina Masoe as the prime minister's cleaner.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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