Council deftly sidesteps living wage campaign
There are plenty of adjectives to describe narrowly avoiding something: swerve, sidestep, dodge, duck, kick for touch.
Any of these could describe what Porirua City councillors did last week when deciding not to give their lowest-paid employees a living wage.
At the moment, the minimum wage is $15.25 and Living Wage Aotearoa has set the living wage at $19.80. That’s some difference, but one in which the living wage backers say is necessary for workers to be happy, feed their families and exist as an included member of society.
Porirua City Council officers came back to the Annual Plan deliberations last Thursday and said ‘‘no way, it’s too expensive’’, as most neutral observers expected would happen.
The living wage would add anywhere between $400,000 and $860,000 to the burden on ratepayers, depending on who you listen to, and it could have meant another one per cent increase to the rates rise this year.
So councillors, heeding advice from their officers, sidestepped bringing the living wage in.
The amendment from Porirua mayor Nick Leggett to contribute $200,000 to the council’s lowestpaid workers saved the day – but only just.
The vote to include the contribution passed 5-4 and that was with two councillors absent.
Denys Latham and John Burke were from the Eastern ward and their colleagues voted in favour, so one must presume the tally would have ended 7-4.
The Northern ward representatives swore black and blue that living wage funding must come from central government. Too many of Porirua’s ratepayers are unaffected by the living wage, so why should the elderly, for example, have to fork out, they said.
It was a social issue for the Government to sort out, they said.
The Eastern and Western ward councillors said this issue was one of leadership and a decision that could make a huge difference in the lives of some of their residents. Show the world we’re a council that cares, they said.
The $200,000 contribution is a middle-of-the-road compromise. A future Porirua City Council will inevitably debate this again and a living wage may pass under new, more sympathetic councillors.
There also needs to be some more detail about the $200,000. How close to the minimum wage do you have to be and how much would you receive?