Cleaning up the House

I’m calling on all MP’s of whatever persuasion to help get a Living Wage for the parliamentary cleaning staff.

The parliamentary cleaners have been in the media recently which has highlighted the fact that they get paid $14.10 per hour for their work while MPs salaries start at around $140,000 per year.

The cleaning staff are employed by contractor Spotless who say that they will pass on higher wages to the cleaning staff if the client (in this case Parliamentary Services) is willing to pay for it.

The parliamentary cleaners work 30 hours a week from midnight til 6am.  They take great pride in their work and do a really good job however their wages are not enough to live on so most work long hours or a couple of jobs to make ends meet.

In addition they are under constant insecurity about the fact that their employer could at any time lose their contract and the only protection they have had is Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act (ERA) which guarantees their job security if the contract is picked up by another cleaning company.

However this provision is now under threat.  The government is ushering in changes to the ERA and parliamentary cleaner’s delegate Mareta Sinoti and two of her colleagues bravely fronted up to the Transport and Industrial Relations committee two weeks ago to tell the National party MPs the reality of their lives and beg for Part 6a to remain.

It was after their appearance there that National MP Tau Henare  (a former Clerical Workers Union organiser) suggested something along the lines of:  “if they don’t like their jobs they should give it to someone who wants it.”

Tau has since apologised but his outburst was a shocking reminder of the lack of empathy prevalent amongst some National MPs which is perhaps best explained as the Money-Empathy Gap – a phenomenon being studied by researchers at the American Berkley university.

I have already written to Parliamentary Services explaining that the House of Representatives should be leading the way in paying the people who look after the MPs a wage that will enable them to live a decent life.  It is abhorrent that MPs should benefit from the work they provide us for a pittance.

And I have challenged MPs across the political spectrum to join with me to Clean Up the House as an expression of support to work alongside the cleaners for one night.

As well as my Green colleagues I already have confirmed support from MPs from Labour and Mana. It will be interesting to see if Tau will take up the brush.

About Denise Roche 161 Articles

Green Party MP

48 Comments Posted

  1. Kerry says “When I was young even “poor kids” had a decent home to go to and plenty to eat.”

    That’s because their parents, even though poor, prioritised feeding their children over alcohol, cigarettes, pokies, TVs, nike shoes etc.

    Our local public health nurses are in the poorest houses every day, and say pretty much every poor house has numerous items that they themselves consider luxuries.

  2. “didn’t have much at all”. Neither did my parents.

    Still infinitely better off than most of the kids these days, around Otangarei and Raumaunga.

    Funny though. When I was young even “poor kids” had a decent home to go to and plenty to eat.

  3. None of my “success” came from growing up in a prosperous family – we didn’t have much at all.

    It came from working hard in a variety of jobs – a couple well paid but most with a pretty low hourly rate, at the minimum rate, and some at significantly less than todays minimum rate.

  4. Kerry,

    Some peoples have drinkling glasses that are always half full, and for others they are half empty.

    Drove around Whangarei couple weekends ago. Pretty bustling.

    Still – If you only have lemons, go and make ……………………..

    PS. Is Graeme Harts mega yacht in Whangarei for a refit or storage? Am impressed with the new bridge by the way. Well done the locals.

  5. Photo. How much of your “success” came from growing up in a reasonably prosperous family, access to New Zealand’s education system, adult role models and mentors, a stable and socially cohesive society and your teachers. I know I owe a lot of mine to growing up in 70’s New Zealand, and my parents.

    Look at yourself honestly and think. Would you have been “successful” if you had grown up in a state house in Otara, with parents working two jobs to make enough to barely exist?
    Or even one of the myriads of current photography graduates with qualifications, but no work.

  6. It would be nice if we had an example from our MP’s. Give back their pay rise, most people haven’t had any for years, so the money can be used to pay the cleaners.

  7. Tiny South Auckland town, Gerrit, in the middle of 2 million dollar toy farm territory.

    Walk around to Naval point Sunday when work takes me to Lyttelton.
    Awful lot of Remuera tractors!
    Or should that be Fendalton Farmers.

  8. In Whangarei? Where existing businesses are closing every few days.

    Having “choices” assumes that equality of opportunity still exists in New Zealand, if it ever really did.

    Where are poor youngsters going to get the capital for even a basic start up business, let alone the support and mentoring.

    I know first hand the level of finance and knowledge it requires to start even the most basic business. You do not get that on minimum wage.

    Most business startups are by middle class with a bit put aside. It very often takes several goes and a lot of money before they become a success. The rich do not bother. They prefer certainty such as financial gambling schemes guaranteed to be bailed out by the tax payer or ex state enterprise/monopolies. Less than 3% of the rich money in the USA is in investment in new start-ups or venture capital The poor simply do not have the capital to get the experience required.

    One of New Zealands, and the UK and USA’s problems is that the entrepreneurial middle class are being starved of money as the wealthy grab more and more to play games with..

    Meanwhile young poorer people are often in a trap it is almost impossible to get out of. That is why the few that do are famous!

  9. Some of them will. More of them should. The majority will become part of that population that does a long days work for less than an honest day’s pay. Or be long term unemployed. Become part of the problem rather than the solution.

    They have choices. They should choose wisely. Someone should be helping them with these choices.

  10. We have teenagers who have finished school, done well, have plenty of motivation, are keen to work, and some have even finished polytechnic in a trade. AND they are still doing the only job they can get. McD’s or similar.

    Why the hell are they “waiting for McDonalds to call”? They need to get out there and start a business, make their own success. Or, perhaps, failure, but its better than doing bugger all…

  11. So now your teenagers are motivated, have completed high school, gone on to spend several years at polytech and have qualified as tradesmen (but are amazingly STILL only teenagers), are would-be world class yachties – but are sitting at home waiting for MacDonalds to call.

    If you spend all you time thinking of reasons why you won’t succeed, then you won’t succeed.

  12. Kerry,

    If a tiny South Auckland township can get Lion Foundation funding (over a number of years) for 12 plastic trainee opti, 3 RIB’s and a Mac Rescue/Patrol/Committee boat what the heck are the people of a major regional town doing?

    Where are the priorities in Whangarei?

    Thank goodenss for gamblers that make these funds available.

    Club optis are used by local schools in the Water Care school kids programmes as well.

    I guess it all comes down to those attibutes of desire and achievement.

    If you want it bad enough you can make something happen.

    You should have look at Naval Point Yacht Club in Lyttleton where the place is overrun with kids after school and 420 class yachts are fully utised by school kids. Have to fight for a place on the ramp!!

    And with the local Waka Ana paddlers, the place is fair humming.

  13. They ARE the same kids. Some were lucky enough to chose parents who had the time and the money to support them, and the connections to find them good jobs. Others didn’t!

  14. No Photo you fuckwit. We have teenagers who have finished school, done well, have plenty of motivation, are keen to work, and some have even finished polytechnic in a trade. AND they are still doing the only job they can get. McD’s or similar.

    In the real world, not planet Key!

    And Gerrit we have 8 balloted optis in the club. That takes care of what% of the teenagers who may like to make a career in sailing in Whangarei.
    Just like your club we expect the parents to be members and support their kids in the weekends. Great if you are a Tauranga wharfie expected to be available for a shift at 6 hours notice 365 days of the year.

  15. We have teenagers who have the work ethic and motivation to become world class sailors (or world class anything).

    We have teenagers who have dropped out of school and spend the week waiting by the phone for occasional MacDonalds shifts.

    These are not the same teenagers.

  16. Kerry,

    You and I obviously inhabit different worlds in regards the yachting community.

    I see many who are earning big time who have done it the hard way. And no, the people who make it wont wait by the phone for a shift at McDonalds. Too busy learning here or overseas working on the boats (sometimes for just board and keep) to get experience and to get ahead.

    I’m 100% certain you wont find them at McDonalds. No skope to get an opportunity to go sailing full time there.

  17. Gerrit. I said already that sailing is one of the cheapest sports to participate in. If not the cheapest. You can be rail meat on a keel boat for free.

    But, becoming a top level sailor is not cheap in either time or money.
    I know a few. They all had support from well off parents.

    A teenager who has to wait by the phone all week for a few 6 hour shifts at McD’s, has no show.

  18. Kerry,

    It absolutely cost nothing to learn to sail for any youngster. You may have to walk to the yacht club but the soles of ones feet are in constant state of regeneration.

    It absolutely cost nothing to go down to the local yacht club and look for a berth on any sports or keel boat.

    It absolutely cost nothing to get books out the library to hone up on sailing rules, tactics, yacht design, sail design, care of rigging, etc, etc, etc. to upskill oneself to a competancy level where further FREE training is available at say the RNZYS youth training scheme or the Buckland Beach equavalent.

    Even up at Keri Keri there is a youth training scheme.

    Attitude, desire and a willingness to learn cost nothing.

    Boat ownership does for sure but every boat except single handers, require crew.

    Ah, yes you may have to forego a few luxuries in life to buy some wet weather and safety gear, but jeez wayne, it is All there if one is keen.

    And as the youngster on board you may be asked to go over the side in the marine or on the moorng with a broom to scrub clean the antifouling before racing.

    Are our youth so weak these days that they cannot even see the FREE stuff on offer?

  19. Unfortunately it is not just sailing. Many sports clubs, and other social and cultural activities by the way, are struggling because New Zealanders are now poor, work too long hours and/or have to hang around for random “flexible” work hours.

    Our own sailing club would collapse without fairly well off retired people, who donate time and materials.

  20. How many top yachties do you know, Gerrit, whose parents were not, at least, small business owners or successful tradesmen?

    Carbon fibre and boat building materials, even the time to go sailing, are out of reach when you are on $14 an hour, only 12 hours a week guaranteed, at Mcdonalds. Even if you can spare the time from waiting by the phone for a shift to come up. Which is the only sort of job way too many teenagers I know have been able to get. Including ones who were successful at school.

  21. Kerry,

    You need to get up to speed. carbon fibre is cheaper then aluminium when considering fit for purpose lifespan (not to mention repairability) of the item.

    Killwell will roll you up a tapered tube (heck carbon tube winders are the proverbial dime a dozen) for the price of a decent fishing rod, to which you add your own stiffening and load patches. Plastic sail track is glued on using a two pack, methacrylate type adhesive.

    Sails are now cheaper in plastic film, carbon thread and taffeta cloth laminates then the traditional dacron.

  22. “Carbon fibre”. I am afraid you have just destroyed your own argument.

    It was possible to win without much money in our youth. Before the wealthy parents arms race. Even then though it required extreme persistence.
    P class Dads with hundreds to spend were around even then.

  23. Kerry,


    National Champion (age group) few times over with no great financial outlay. Though I do build my own boats, modify my own carbon masts plus fix all my own gear. Sails are all second hand. We sleep in club houses and in cars, eat McDonalds and cans of rice pudding traveling to and at regattas.

    Remember to learn to sail at most yacht clubs is free. Even the boats are supplied. Out yacht club does insist that an adult attends with each trainee. They run the rescue boats and learn to rig boats, frequently becoming club stalwarts by becoming race officers, rescue boat drivers, etc. Some even do the free adult learn to sail program.

    You will find those kids that had everything done for them as kids by wealthy parents actually don’t make the grade as yachties. For the prime reason that they are not self reliant and able to look after themselves in the hurly-burly real world.

    You will find the professional sailor (as ALL other top sportspeople) has forgone a lot to reach the top. Money is actually not the important attribute you think it is.

    Attitude, desire and application are far far far more important.

  24. Gerrit.

    It is correct that to be a top yachtsman you have to have come from a relatively wealthy family.

    It is why I gave up competitive yachting. Even though we often placed well, our older boats, bought with our paper run money, could not compete with the kids whose parents bought them a new boat and sails every year and paid for them to travel to all the championships.

    It is one of the cheapest sports to participate in if you have no ambition to be competitive,or are happy to sail on others keel boats, however.

  25. DBuckley. That is what happens when employers are allowed to make more profits by screwing their employees, subsidised by tax payers through “working for families” and subsidised by their underpaid employees, instead of running their business better and/or re-investing in capital equipment and other measures to increase productivity.

    Note the Germans and Japanese sell more cars than the USA, and build them cheaper, despite twice the wages.

  26. The graph showing the increasing disparity between productivity vs real wages; if one looks at the OECD data New Zealand’s productivity compared to the OECD, over a similar time period and indeed, well beyond, is falling, pretty much like the wages line.

  27. Gregor W

    No I did not say that they had no innate abilities.

    I said that a “poor” people can become whatever they desire.

    And yes innate abilty has to do with reaching the very top.

    However many people reach their own “tops” (in my case in representative football and yachting) without ever reaching All White or Olympic selections.

    Being the best we can be takes desire and attitude.

    Plus humility to recognise that when we have reached the peak of our abilities, it may not be enough to be the best of the best.

    All of that is not based on the income of our parents not our own ability to generate income.

  28. Gerrit – are you proposing that neither SBW nor Valerie Adams possessed no innate characteristics, and their ability is solely based on desire and attitude?

    If so, I have a lovely bridge to sell you.

  29. Many poor people become professional yachties. Nothing to do with the “class” pigeon hole you put them in.

    Everything to do with personal motivation, desire and attitude.

    Your division of earnings barriers are simply not there. Anyone who wants to be successful, be it a Richard Branson or a Sonny Bill Williams or a Valerie Adams or a Lorde or anyone else who have made a success for themselves, can be a succesful as they desire.

  30. “Class exists in your mind for you have an inate requirement to pidgeon hole people into a structure that does not exist.”

    If it doesn’t exist, then we need another explanation of all the phenomena that can be explained by the theory that society is divided into classes. Like why poor people don’t often become professional yachties.

  31. Sam,

    Class exists in your mind for you have an inate requirement to pidgeon hole people into a structure that does not exist.

    You cannot argue the toss that ALL kids have the same opportunities irrespective of your “class” label so revert to belittling tactics to renounce that people can be who they want to be, by not wanting to lose a “minor point”.

    Fixed mindset?

    Another labelled pidgeon hole to slot people into?

  32. I presumed that most professional yachties started out sailing as a hobby, rather than getting paid to do it from the word go. I guess I could be wrong.

    “Reality calling, every kid at school can become a top notch proffesional sailor. ”

    Remionds me of a South African embassy spokesperson who came to my school, and told us that apartheid wasn’t stopping black people becoming successful – that they could make it if they really tried.

    Gerrit, you are in essence, claiming that class doesn’t exist. Dunno how we can get past that, especiallly since you dismiss everything as ‘excuses’ which kind of suggests you have an ideologically fixed mind set (people who talk in slogans usually do). I don’t think I want to spend months researching the class background of professional yachties vs. cleaners in order to win a minor point.

  33. Sam,

    All the professional yachties I know they consider their work as an occupation. Not a hobby.

    Most have families.

    Reality calling, every kid at school can become a top notch proffesional sailor. There is absolutely nothing to stop anyone.

    No platitudes here.

    Anymore excuses?

  34. “if they want to whine about what they are paid there are these hundreds who would be grateful for the job and be thankful that it is a job at all.”

    There’s something in what you say, but I don’t think its fair to describe people as “whining” because they want a decent wage. Be reasonable. It’s true that there are others who might want their job, but this just highlights what a failure our economic system has been. Can’t blame the cleaners for that. After all, a whole lot of other people have jobs that others could do, yet they still manage to get pay rises.

  35. “I suppose you are oblivious to the fact that many sailors spend 20 odd years getting to the top of the trade, supporting families as they got the knowledge and experience to become the best of the best”

    Calm down, old fruit, there was nothing in what I said that suggested that. I suspect that many cleaners have put in years of work cleaning, getting better at it, a few might be the best cleaners of the best, and yet all this effort has got them nowhere. You can say that this is their own fault, that they should have chosen to be brain surgeons or professional sailors, but do you really think that in considering their choices in life they went “Oh I think I’ll be a cleaner” as opposed to “I desperately need the money to keep myself and my family going and this is all thats on offer at present”?

    Now I don’t honestly know if all the TNZ sailors have families, or how they’ve supported them as they indulged in their hobby (do you?). But I doubt that many were working cleaning jobs at night while becoming pro yachtspeople in their spare time. Nor, for that matter, do I think these people made a careful, considered choice of their career, in the expectation that yachting was going to be something the government could be expected to be funding in the future.

    Basically, they got lucky, their hobby turned out to be something the government decided to fund. Seems to me its about time cleaners had some ‘luck’.

    “Every cleaner has the opportunity to become a top notch sailer”

    Reality calling, wants its empty platitude back.

  36. Gerrit, either you or I have misunderstood Sam’s post. You have clearly taken it literally. I thought he was taking the piss.

  37. Sam,

    If these cleaners had spent their time sailing yachts rather than frittering away their lives working to support their families the government might well have been willing to throw money at them. They only have themselves to blame.

    You saying the sailors just walked off the street and got government support?

    I suppose you are oblivious to the fact that many sailors spend 20 odd years getting to the top of the trade, supporting families as they got the knowledge and experience to become the best of the best (or second best this time in the case of TNZ latest venture).

    Every cleaner has the opportunity to become a top notch sailer, just like every single member of TNZ had the opportunity.

    Que the excuses in why they could not in 1, 2, 3, 4…………

    And YES, they have only themselves to blame for holding themselves back from a more rewarding lifestyle.

  38. Whereas its always good fun to indulge in a bit of right wing bashing, unfortunately, it falls way short of the mark on this occasion.

    For every one of those cleaners complaining that their wages are too low (which they are, but lets put that aside for a moment) there will be hundreds of people who have no sympathy whatsoever, pointing out that at least these cleaners have a job, and if they want to whine about what they are paid there are these hundreds who would be grateful for the job and be thankful that it is a job at all.

    No faction has yet openly admitted that there is a systemic problem of there being a lot of people for whom there will never be any work. This little outing (actually, quite a big outing, as its on Campbell Live!) is just one more smokescreen to hide the truth. A smokescreen that all ideologies support, tacitly or openly.

    The trots in here are on the same side as the RWNJs, and part of the same problem, but just cant see it! Wake up!!!

  39. It’s all about choices. If these cleaners had spent their time sailing yachts rather than frittering away their lives working to support their families the government might well have been willing to throw money at them. They only have themselves to blame.

  40. This is typical of this neo-liberal Govt. I’m certain if they had their way, they would abolish the ‘minimum wage’ & unemployment benefits. There whole strategy is about ‘survival of the fittest’

    Denise, maybe you could suggest to Mr. Henare (& Mr. Key & other Nat. MPs)that they offer to take on the cleaners job for a week & then say its only worth minimum wage (or just above). Or is this another thing that doesn’t exist on ‘planet key’ ? (SHAME on them)


  41. Henare has always come across as an arrogant toss but like a number of individuals, regardless of race, and who acquire some money and position he has obviously forgotten his roots as well as his manners.

    However, one must be careful to not tar all people with the same brush so are there ANY Nats out there prepared to listen? Find them, write a concerned complaint. Still, I recall when Labour did not listen to public concerns either or Greens for that matter.
    I consider a living wage more important than, for example, abortion on demand that we are ALL paying for via taxes and obnoxious drunks male and female that take up costly hospital,paramedical and police services. How about user pays and the money saved can be better deployed.
    And, too, adjust legislation (increase drinking age, limit liquor outlets,less “freedoms” for young people until they have the true maturity to be responsible for their actions etc).

    We are spending too much on fixing up what is often the result of misguided teaching and a lack of restraint.
    For all that I hope that Part 6A remains and the cleaners have some comfort on that one. as well as a wage increase. The present amount is really ridiculous.

  42. I was told there are plenty workers from China who would fight for any job paying more than $5 per hour…
    NO wonder Tau would say something like that…
    National govt thinks slaves should be gratefule if they have any job and get paid at all…

  43. So
    First question – who decides what a “living wage” for each of these cleaners is?
    Note, the $18+ per hour is for a family of four, not an individual, so the decider would have to ask a lot of personal questions.

    Second question, what will Parliamentary Services be instructed to reduce to fund this expanded wage bill?
    Note, I expect the Green Party to suggest MPs wages be reduced, unless they plan on introducing a new or increased tax for the purpose.

    Last question, why the Parliamentary cleaners only, what about the cleaners of all other properties occupied by Crown employees and agents?

    Looking forward to the answers?

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