Hamilton City Council backs living wage

DANIEL ADAMS
Last updated 05:00 22/05/2013
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Hamilton City Council's lowest-paid staff could receive more than $100 a week after a trailblazing decision to lift workers' minimum pay rates.

The council is set to become the first city in the country to adopt a living wage policy guaranteeing its staff an hourly wage of at least $18.40.

In a fiercely debated decision the council voted to introduce a minimum living wage for all staff, phased in over two years, and funded from existing budgets, in a move management said would cost at least $170,000 per year.

Council democracy staff last night put the final vote at 7-6 but were checking elected members' votes because of earlier confusion over the final voting split.

Councillor Dave Macpherson, who shepherded the decision through strong opposition from management and Mayor Julie Hardaker, said that the policy was a matter of the council valuing all of its staff, and "ensuring that the families they support are able to achieve a reasonable standard of living."

The move would be phased in over two years, with a more detailed financial report on the move to come back before the council over the next few months.

Mr Macpherson estimated the net weekly wages of a council employee on the minimum hourly wage of $13.75 would climb from $445 to $595 per week.

"The current minimum wage would only deliver $445 in the hand for a full time worker, which is pathetically small and no family could live on. If it was the living wage the amount would be about $595 a week," said Mr Macpherson.

But Ms Hardaker said the Government had made it clear councils needed to control their staffing costs and had given them powers to do that.

She said the proportion of council's operating expenses allocated to wages had been roughly the same over the past decade, and refused to support the plan after senior council managers said the total cost was still difficult to quantify.

"I think it's important that people are paid a fair salary for what they do, but I am not going to make decisions without the proper information. And proper information is the full consequences and full cost of that initiative," she said.

"I am not going to sit here in these meetings, time and time again, without the full actual costs. I'm not against the proposition . . . I think it's wrong to do that."

Currently 80 city council workers fall between the minimum and living wage, earning an average $16.60 per hour - most in the city's libraries and pools.

The living wage was proposed by the Family Centre Social Policy Research Unit and is calculated on estimated living costs for a family of two adults and two children, where one adult works full time and the other works part-time.

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The decision was later described by council chief executive Barry Harris as a political one, and he had no comment beyond the views in his staff's report.

That report had urged the political wing not to adopt a living wage and instead let Auckland City make the running on investigating a new living wage policy.

Organisational development general manager Olly Te Ua told councillors the organisation's lowest-paid staff had turnover rates in line with all other staff.

Mr Te Ua said a living wage funded from within existing wage budgets would hurt management's ability to pay for performance, to retain high performers.

But Mr Macpherson pointed to major private sector employers including The Warehouse, which have already moved to introduce a higher minimum wage.

"If commercial organisations like The Warehouse and Progressive Enterprises can consider such a move, the council should be prepared to fulfil its objective as a ‘good employer' and do the same," Mr Macpherson said. daniel.adams@waikatotimes.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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