When working a 68-hour week still doesn't cut it

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 05:00 24/09/2013
Esau Taniela
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ
TRYING TO GET BY: Parking Warden Esau Taniela struggles to support his family despite working over 50 hours every week. His pregnant partner has three jobs.

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With bills to pay and a baby on the way, Wellington parking warden Esau Taniela tackles a 68-hour working week to bring home $719, while his pregnant partner works three jobs.

The 22-year-old Parkwise worker is one of hundreds of council staff who stand to benefit from a Wellington City Council commitment to a living wage.

At a public forum jointly organised by Living Wage Wellington and Downtown Community Ministry, four of the capital's six mayoral candidates were asked if they backed raising council staff wages, and providing affordable housing stock to address homelessness in the capital.

If a living wage was implemented, defined by campaigners as the amount needed to cover the basic necessities of living, Taniela could earn at least $18.40 an hour.

He told the audience at a packed-out St Peter's Church in Willis St last night that he currently earned $14.40 an hour before tax and worked between 50 and 70 hours a week.

That was barely enough to pay bills and rent, let alone provide healthy food for his family, or savings.

"The most important thing for me is to have a stable future for my family," Taniela said.

"I want a future where I don't have to worry constantly about the bills - to be happy and not stressing all the time, and to have enough time to spend with my partner and our baby."

Incumbent mayor Celia Wade-Brown and candidates Jack Yan, Karunanidhi Muthu and Rob Goulden all backed the policy. Muthu, now a lawyer, said he earned little more than $8 an hour when he arrived in New Zealand with his young family in the 1990s, and said families in a wealthy country should not have to live on the poverty line.

Even people earning $15-$16 an hour would struggle to support their family in Wellington, Goulden said.

Yan addressed criticism of the living wage, arguing it would pay dividends by helping with the social problems related to pay inequality. Wade-Brown said she understood offering a living wage was hard for small businesses, but extending it throughout Wellington would lead to more spending in the local economy.

In June, the council committed $250,000 towards a living wage scheme for its staff, and aims to report back on its plans in November. The change would affect as many as 757 council employees and contractors.

Candidates Nicola Young, who opposes the living wage, and John Morrison, who supports it, were both absent from last night's forum.

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- The Dominion Post

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