Regional council takes first steps on living wage - important questions remain
Greater Wellington Regional Council has voted to introduce the Living Wage for council staff, making it one of the first Living Wage Councils in New Zealand.
The move is expected to cost the council around $10,000 per year in additional wage and salary payments and will benefit approximately 10 employees who currently earn below the Living Wage.
“This is a cautious first step as it applies the living wage only to direct council employees”, says GWRC chair Chris Laidlaw. “In principle we support the Living Wage campaign because we know there are many hard-working people in greater Wellington who struggle to make ends meet. However, there are still many important questions to be answered before the Council can consider extending the Living Wage to include the employees of its contractors, such as cleaners and caterers.
“At the recent mayoral forum I asked Local Government New Zealand to seek, on behalf of the local government sector, a legal opinion on whether and in what circumstances the living wage can be paid by a local authority.
“The issues involved extend well beyond what we as a council can achieve on our own. As a sector, we need legal clarity in which to apply the living wage with no dispute about the legitimacy of its introduction by councils who wish to do so,” says Cr Laidlaw.
Meanwhile, as part of Wednesday's vote, GWRC has instructed its officers to consider how the living wage can be factored into its procurement process. The council sees it as one of a set of criteria to be applied to its purchasing decisions alongside other important criteria such as good environmental practice. The council also voted to encourage council controlled organisations to become living wage employers, when GWRC and other living wage councils make up 51 percent of the shareholding. The council asked for advice on applying the living wage to CentrePort Ltd, which is 76.9 percent owned by GWRC.
Cr Laidlaw adds that before voting for the motion on introducing the living wage the council sought the views of a range of stakeholders.
“To be honest the feedback has been mixed. While nearly everyone we spoke to understands the struggles those earning the minimum wage face some questioned why ratepayers should have to foot the bill when this appears to be a problem that central government should be stepping in to help solve.
"We look forward to continuing the engagement with Living Wage Aotearoa, local and central government, our many contractors and of course our ratepayers. This is a complex issue and today’s vote is only the start of the discussion on the Living Wage and the types issues it is intended to address."