Campbell Barry: Stand on council meals is about fairness to all

Campbell Barry made his own lunch for a Hutt City Council meeting last week.

Campbell Barry made his own lunch for a Hutt City Council meeting last week.

OPINION: Three weeks ago, Hutt City Council passed a living wage policy which supported directly employed Council staff being paid a living wage of $20.20 an hour.

However, it came with a catch - it would be paid only when it was "the most cost-effective way for council to do its business".

This was the first time such a clause had ever been included in a policy at the council, and it is effectively saying that we support the idea of a living wage, but we won't really fund it.

After this decision was made I walked into the "Councillors Only" room and saw a buffet meal put on for elected members before the meeting.

READ MORE: Hutt City Mayor Ray Wallace uses casting vote to retain free meals for councillors

I was pretty hungry, as I hadn't eaten earlier, so I grabbed a piece of chicken and took a bite. Then it hit me – I instantly felt sick after thinking about the hypocrisy of how a different set of rules applies when we look at ourselves, and when we look at our lowest-paid workers.

I went home and thought more about this during the night, and made the decision that I had to make a stand against the double standards that exist within our council.

I drafted my motion requiring all elected members to bring their own meal to council and committee meetings or pay for the catering provided. I gave all of my colleagues a heads-up by email, and then posted it on social media.

To my surprise, my motion has been covered by nearly all media outlets in the country. It has got people talking, and for the majority it's not about stripping away food from politicians, for most people I think it's about the principle of fairness.

Why should elected people, whether they are in local or central government, play with a different set of rules  from everyone else?

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Here in Lower Hutt I know too many people who work two jobs, 60 hours a week just to make ends meet. Mums and dads who are working bloody hard, but still struggle to get themselves and their family ahead.

At Hutt City Council we have 252 hardworking employees who are undervalued and paid poorly for the work they do. I doubt any of these workers expect someone else to buy meals for them; nor would they expect special treatment. They just want to work hard and be paid a fair wage for the work they do.

On Monday my motion was heard and defeated 7-6, with mayor Ray Wallace having the deciding vote. I was disappointed, not just because the free meals wouldn't stop, but mainly because my fear of double standards existing within our council became a reality.

I'm still pretty young, idealistic and like most people want to be inspired by the people who lead our country and cities. However, witnessing such clear hypocrisy and double standards makes it just a little bit harder to keep faith.

While my motion was voted down, I'm glad I've been able to shine a spotlight on double standards within our council, and I hope it will encourage more people to speak up when something isn't right and needs to change.

Campbell Barry is Wainuiomata Ward councillor on Hutt City Council.

 - The Dominion Post


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