Sth Canty workers struggle for 'the basics'

AL WILLIAMS
Last updated 05:00 15/02/2013
ben liu
JOHN BISSET/ Fairfax NZ
SELF-EMPLOYED: Centennial Park Store owner Ben Liu puts in 100 hours a week.
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Many South Canterbury workers are earning considerably less than the wage needed for the "basic necessities of life" as determined by a report released yesterday.

The living wage for New Zealanders has been set at $18.40 in a community-driven campaign aimed at employers. The hourly rate is that required for a two-adult, two-child family, based on one adult working fulltime and the other part-time.

The wage would provide a modest household budget where people could buy the basics, spend time with their families and enjoy occasional recreational activities.

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union organiser John Gardner represents 200 South Canterbury workers who, he says, are paid an average $16 per hour. Most are in the service and manufacturing industries.

He says Working for Families payments cover for low wage rates and hide the fact that employers are underpaying employees.

"I have a huge respect for how some members look after their families with incomes they are on. A number of employers out there are extremely profitable and they only pay what they have to.

"If you have better wages then people appreciate their job more; low paid workplaces have a high staff turnover. When the minimum wage went up unemployment went down, it doesn't go the other way around."

An hourly increase to $18.40 was not affordable for many companies, Aoraki Development Business and Tourism chief executive Wendy Smith said.

"In the current business environment ... increasing wages to this level may just not be affordable for many companies.

"We are a low-wage economy and it is critical for New Zealand that we focus on developing companies and industries that create high-value products and services; this then allows companies to pay higher salaries."

She said it was important to recognise living costs such as housing were more affordable in South Canterbury.

Timaru financial planner Stephen McFarlane said a jump in hourly rates would create a negative outcome.

"A jump to $18.40 might have negative outcomes in terms of employers being more cautious about hiring and retaining staff as well as flow-through effects to the cost of living."

LIFE'S A STRUGGLE

Centennial Park Store owner Ben Liu is someone who is struggling to make ends meet.

Mr Liu works 100 hours each week and can barely afford to pay himself the minimum wage, let alone a living wage of $18.40 per hour.

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Mr Liu bought the business nine months ago and moved from Christchurch with his wife, two children and father.

He says business and living costs are going up.

"We've just had an industry-wide price increase for milk; things are getting more expensive, wages are not going up but the cost of living is.

"This is a small business and we're doing a lot of hours; we're paying rent and power, too, and the cost of living still goes up."

- The Timaru Herald

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