Editorial: Living wage nice, but ...

PETER O'NEILL
Last updated 05:00 17/12/2013
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OPINION: The issue of a living wage for all employees is not on any Timaru District Council agenda yet, and councillors may be hoping it never makes it that far.

The issue is fraught with challenges.

A living wage campaign was devised earlier this year by the Council of Trade Unions, the Public Service Association and the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand.

They felt the minimum wage of $13.75 an hour wasn't enough to live on, and proposed a figure of $18.40 an hour.

The Wellington City Council has voted to phase in the wage from next year; Auckland will consider it; a report is being prepared in Christchurch; and a Hamilton council committee passed the initiative only for the full council to backtrack.

It will cost the Timaru council around $50,000 to implement, as about 20 workers receive less than $18.40 an hour now.

But it's not as simple as giving those 20 a nice Christmas present. What about council workers on $18.50 an hour, who see unfairness in an automatic rise for others but nothing for them?

What about ratepayers on minimum wages who don't work for the council but who would contribute to any pay rise.

Likewise struggling fixed income elderly ratepayers.

And what of the dollar amount itself? Should there be geographic differences in what is deemed a living wage?

An hourly rate of $18.40 in Timaru is different to $18.40 in Auckland or Wellington.

Should it matter if the worker is married or not, or if their spouse also works?

What about whether they are supporting children and if they are, how many?

Does it make a difference how much the worker gets through Working for Families or accommodation supplements, or will these benefits simply reduce correspondingly, effectively leaving the worker little better off?

Sure, it is a fine ideal that everyone should be paid at least $18.40 an hour, but it is not straightforward.

A fairer mechanism would be a higher minimum wage across the board.

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- The Timaru Herald

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