29 Oct 2015

Security guards get living wage

8:32 am on 29 October 2015

Wellington City Council's contracted security guards will now earn a living wage.

Security Guard - stock photo

Some of the security guards will earn an extra $3.65 an hour. Photo: 123RF

Despite threats of judicial reviews, fiscal blowouts, and political fallout, nine councillors voted for the pay increase though another six voted against it.

The measure is projected to cost $2.4 million over seven years.

Tiso Panapa is a security guard who works in central Wellington.

"It's a tough job, I get spat at and I get threats all the time," he said.

"But even though this is a tough job, it is very low paid. I am paid the legal wage of $14.75 an hour. Now, this is too low to have a decent life."

The living wage is defined by the council as $18.40 an hour: the amount necessary for a family of four to live a decent life, where one person works full time, and another works part time.

The council's own staff have earned the wage since last year, but this is the first time it has been rolled out to external contractors.

And it came with big legal warnings - not to mention a mixture of public submissions.

Wellington Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Milford was against the idea, and earlier called for the council to drop the proposal.

"The perverse, illogical and unfair outcomes that could flow from such a policy," he said.

"The suggestion is that the security company pays different wage rates for the different locations to the same staff for the same job"

But employment lawyer Peter Cranney rejected that view and said the debate was also about human dignity.

"The man from the Chamber of Commerce who said, 'how ridiculous it would be for a security guard to come into Wellington and be paid a living wage; while he was in Porirua he's on a lower rate.'

"Why is that ridiculous? The ridiculous thing is that he's on a lower rate in Porirua."

Once public submissions were over, the debate really began, with council chief executive Kevin Lavery telling those present raising the wage would put him in a difficult position.

"In essence, you are asking me to implement something we believe is potentially unlawful.

"Moreover, we can expect someone to seek a judicial review."

"I would have a problem directing one of my employees to implement something I know to be potentially unlawful, that's because I have a duty as a good employer and I take it seriously. You have that same duty to me."

The debate flipped between fairness, affordability, and legality, despite Mr Lavery's warning that fairness was outside the Council's regulatory brief.

Councillor Helen Ritchie said that fairness was a key part of politics.

"We are making a political statement, we are politicians. We are making a statement about human dignity, about equality, about freedom, about fairness," she said.

Iona Pannett agreed: "When you hire someone for 14 or 15 dollars an hour, you are saying that they are not very valuable.

"That they are at the bottom of the pecking order, and that their work is of far less value."

The final vote, tallied by Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, saw the motion pass with nine in favour and six against.

How they voted

For: Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, Justin Lester, Sarah Free, Iona Pannett, Paul Eagle, Helene Ritchie, Ray Ahipene-Mercer, David Lee, Mark Peck.

Against: Andy Foster, Jo Coughlan, Simon Marsh, Simon Woolf, Nicola Young, Malcolm Sparrow

What they voted to do

1. Receive the information.

2. Agree for the preferred supplier for the Council's security services tender to implement a living wage in relation to the services it provides to the Council.

3. Agree to reduce the overall WCC personnel and travel expenditure budget of $91m by $250,000 to maintain a fiscally neutral position in 2015/16.

4. Instruct officers to draft [Key Performance Indicators] for the successful security provider that include measures to gauge:

a. The quality and effectiveness of the services

b. Employee retention rates compared with industry averages

c. Employee satisfaction

d. Levels of absenteeism

e. Security services provider's ability to attract higher quality candidates.

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