27 Jul 2017

Christchurch City Council to vote on living wage for its workers

1:07 pm on 27 July 2017

Introducing a living wage for Christchurch City Council employees could penalise the people it's intended to help, an employers' group says.

Christchurch city council

Raising the minimum salary to the living wage would benefit 470 of Christchurch City Council staff. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

The council was due to vote today on bringing in a wage of $20.20 per hour, but delayed it for a week as Mayor Lianne Dalziel was absent because of sickness.

It has been looking at lifting the pay of its direct employees, a move that would affect about 470 staff and cost $775,000 a year.

Carol Penaia, who had worked for a private firm used by the council, hoped the council would extend the living wage beyond direct employees.

Ms Penaia spent nine years with a firm that cleaned toilets and camping grounds, starting out on just $15 an hour.

She left her job seven months ago, but said in her own case a living wage would help her to better support her 14-year-old son.

"I find it hard trying to get uniforms and stuff for my son or even just shoes. He's walking around with broken shoes at school.

"[It's hard] to try to pay for things like school camps, which cost about $200."

Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said wage increases should be paid for increases in productivity and not as compensation for a person's domestic circumstances.

"It's just a piece of social engineering. It divorces a reward from effort and seniority in work."

Mr Townsend was worried a living wage would end up hurting the low-paid workers it was intended to help. Private sector employers, forced to match the council's living wage in order to attract workers, might limit themselves to more experienced better qualified applicants instead of giving young unskilled workers a go on a lower wage, he said.

"We need to make a decision as a society that we exclude those people from work or we do what you and I have done as we've been growing up. We get in the door, we work for next to nothing for a while, we gain experience and our wages improve."

The Christchurch proposal follows a similar one by Auckland Council.

Last month, Wellington City Council went a step further, expanding its living wage beyond employees to contractors and those working for council-controlled organisations.

That included staff at the Wellington Zoo, Wellington Water and venues such as Westpac Stadium and Basin Reserve.

Mat Danaher, spokesperson for E Tū, the union representing many of those workers, hoped Christchurch would approve the living wage for employees but also expand that eventually to staff at council-owned companies.

Being paid $4 an hour more than the minimum wage had made a real difference to its members' lives, he said.

"We've had members saying to us, I don't have to work 60 to 70 hours a week any more. I can actually work 40 or 50.

"I had one member saying to me that the difference it makes to her is she will be able to have Sunday dinners with her grandkids in a way that she never could with her own children because she was always working."

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