There is a real danger that Tauranga will fall behind and become known for its low wages if employers don't join the growing movement to pay their staff a living wage, says the E Tu union.
The 2018 New Zealand Living Wage rate increased to $20.55 an hour – 35 cents more than the 2017 rate – at a gathering of Living Wage Employers in Wellington last week.
The new living wage rate is more than $4 an hour above the minimum wage – recently increased to $16.50 an hour – and around a third of workers earn less than this.
A living wage generally means that a person working 40 hours a week, with no additional income, should be able to afford the basics for a modest but decent life, such as, food, shelter, utilities, transport, healthcare, and childcare.
More than 90 New Zealand companies are accredited Living Wage Employers, however there are none in Tauranga. It was announced this week that Bayhopper bus drivers will be paid the living wage when NZ Bus, which currently operates in Auckland and Wellington, takes over the Western Bay of Plenty bus contracts in December.
“Tauranga is often talked about as a great place to live but it's not necessarily reflected in the wages and people are going to start asking questions,” says E Tu campaign lead Mat Danaher.
Nelson had a similar problem until recently, says Mat, but there is now growing support for the living wage movement there and one of the city's largest employers, New Zealand King Salmon, is taking steps to pay its staff a living wage.
Tauranga City Council voted not to introduce the living wage for its staff in February 2016. A report last year revealed 65 of the council's 665 staff earned less than the 2017 living wage rate of $20.20. More than half of those employees were working in libraries.
Mat says it often takes a large employer to lead the way and local government, when considering whether to pay its staff a living wage, should be looking at the real cost of low wages.
“We know that low wage workers – and people on the living wage are still classed as that – tend to spend 70-80 per cent in the local economy as soon as they get it. For a local body it's not about the headline expense of the wages, it's about what kind of money do you want to invest in your own community.”
Mat says there may be employers in Tauranga who haven't thought about becoming living wage employers.
“Now's the time to be thinking about it. They can get in touch with Living Wage Aotearoa. It's a no-obligation, confidential process where somebody can talk them through it and how much it will cost. Quite often they will find it's a much easier, less painful experience than they imagined and less expensive as well.”
To find out more about the living wage movement visit: www.livingwage.org.nz