Editorial: Report only first step

Last updated 05:00 15/02/2013

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OPINION: Everyone should be able to afford a treat each month, right?

Say, a night at the movies? Or an out-of-town holiday every couple of years?

And not to have to stress about the cost of sending the kids to school camp.

It is things like these that have helped determine what a living wage should be in New Zealand, and community and union groups have worked that wage out at $18.40 an hour.

Statistics New Zealand doesn't have figures on what the average hourly rate in South Canterbury is now, but does have a Canterbury one. And it's $17.62. Which isn't a mile away, except it's an average, so half of all workers are below even that.

The stories we have on page 1 today on some hard-working Kiwis make for sobering reading. They won't be alone.

Kirk and Sharon Watts work two jobs each but have outstanding dental and car bills and haven't had a proper holiday for 15 years. Dairy owner Ben Liu works 100 hours a week and can barely pay himself the minimum wage.

That's not fair.

But what to do about it?

The danger in arbitrarily increasing wages is that employers can't afford to take on staff, and unemployment grows. And it is high unemployment that influences wages in the first place. Because there are 163,000 people out there without jobs, employers can pay less. You take it or leave it.

The authors of the Living Wage report suggest local and central government should pay workers at least $18.40 (wouldn't that put rates and taxes up?); that publicly funded outfits like universities pay the same minimum (again, more taxes or student fees); and that wealthy corporates lead by example (if inclined, wouldn't they now?).

So the answers come with fishhooks, diluting the impact of the report.

Except putting the effort into researching it can't hurt either.

The gap between rich and poor in this country has grown faster than all other developed countries; there is a clear difference in living standards between Australia and here; and too many of our children are living in poverty.

And to put an actual figure on it is a good approach, but really, that's all it does.

Puts a figure on it. That on its own won't change a thing.

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- The Timaru Herald

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