by Denise Roche
The day before the government’s budget the Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU) was joined by around sixty other community and faith-based organisations to launch the Campaign for a Living Wage.
It’s a timely campaign – especially since the budget announcements mean a harder time for low and middle income families.
The SFWU – and the other organisations like the Salvation Army and budgeting services are on the coal face working with those who are impacted most severely.
They’re the ones trying to negotiate higher wages, or offering food parcels. The budget does nothing to raise families and children out of poverty and there are around 220,000 kids living in poverty in New Zealand today. And out of those two out of every five kids is from a family where at least one of the parents is working.
The Living Wage campaign is an attempt to address workers low incomes and deliver a decent standard of living that allows them to earn a living and be able to fully participate in society. The minimum wage doesn’t do that.
Working for 40 hours a week on the minimum wage of $13.50 per hour brings in $540 per week before tax. Most workers earning this – and we’re talking about a hundred thousand – have their wages subsidized by the government with Working For Families (so the government is allowing employers who pay low wages to keep them low.)
But even then thousands of families are struggling to cover the basics like housing, food, electricity, transport and school costs. Many are working several low paid jobs – some more than 70 hours a week – to make ends meet.
The difference between the minimum wage and a Living Wage is that one is scraping by under stress, just getting by – while the other is about getting by with dignity – with the ability to care for our kids and contribute to our communities.
The Government – and local councils too – will be called upon to pay a living wage. Not just to those directly employed, but for those who are contracted to provide services as well. Cleaners, security guards, roading contractors, caregivers – the list goes on…
Lifting pay rates for New Zealand’s lowest paid workers will reduce inequality and poverty. And we need to do that or face the fact that we are condemning New Zealand to becoming a society of the haves and have-nots.