Living wage debate re-ignites in Wellington

10:48 am on 2 September 2016

Wellington City Council could face legal action again after a pledge by several mayoral candidates to extend its living wage to all council contractors.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in support of a living wage for low paid contracted council staff.

Photo: RNZ / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Auckland mayoral candidate Phil Goff yesterday promised to try and introduce the living wage for council employees there if he wins.

In Wellington, the council raised the minimum wage paid to employees and some contractors in 2014 to $18.40 and it is now $18.55.

The minimum legal wage is $15.25 and campaigners say the living wage should be $19.80.

Wellington City Council backed down from extending its minimum wage to all external contractors after the local Chamber of Commerce threatened legal action.

But the issue was back on the agenda after three of the six mayoral candidates said they supported it at a community meeting last night.

Almost 200 people gathered at the Wesley Church in central Wellington to hear their mayoral candidates' views on the living wage.

Deputy mayor Justin Lester said he wanted the city to be not only the coolest, but the fairest, little capital.

Justin Lester says he is committed to economic growth in Wellington.

Deputy mayor Justin Lester. Photo: RNZ / Michael Cropp

"I'm incredibly proud to be the first and only council in the entire country to implement a living wage for its employees."

He had been a strong supporter of the living wage both on the council, and in his own business, he said.

Porirua mayor Nick Leggett, who is standing in Wellington this election, said he wanted to be judged by his actions, including raising the minimum pay rate for employees at Porirua City Council.

That council now had a minimum rate of $17.25 an hour.

"That's not the living wage as set but it is an increase and it is a real improvement to those workers' lives."

Councillor Helen Ritchie also supported the living wage, but councillors Nicola Young and Andy Foster, and candidate Keith Johnson did not.

Ms Young said she wanted Wellington to be an affordable city to live in and she planned to achieve that by cutting waste and freezing rates rises at inflation.

Nicola Young - wants Kate Sheppard lights to stay

Wellington councillor Nicola Young. Photo: RNZ / Teresa Cowie

"I believe the living wage is a one-size-fits-all tool doing a job that really the government should be doing.

"Many people who are getting it are actually students living with their parents."

She was also concerned about retired people who earned less than the living wage but had to pay for others through their rates, she said.

Mr Foster said the living wage took responsibility from central government and placed it on ratepayers.

"It is predicated on a family of four ... the reality is, certainly my understanding is, that something like 70 percent of people that actually receive the living wage are not in that family situation."

Councillor Jo Coughlan was not present due to a family bereavement. Fellow mayoral candidate Johnny Overton also did not attend.

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