Parliament gets its own house in order on Living Wage


 Eseta Ailaoa, parliamentary cleaner and E tū union member speaks to media at the Living Wage event at parliament yesterday

The Living Wage movement has chalked up many impressive victories for low paid workers since it started in 2012, and yesterday marked another step towards wage justice in Aotearoa.

Just weeks into the new Government, and cleaners and caterers working at Parliament are celebrating news that Parliament will move them all up to the New Zealand Living Wage rate.

By now you’ve heard all about the Living Wage and the community movement behind it. Living Wage Movement Aotearoa New Zealand brings together unions, faith groups, and community organisations who fight together for decent wages.

I’ve sat in packed-out community meetings in churches as the movement has called for leadership from our elected leaders, to use their power to improve the lives of the lowest paid. I’ve sat in city council hearings listening to testimonials from workers about the impact a living wage would have on their lives. And, as we marched, met, organised and networked together around a common purpose, I’ve been proud to campaign with my allies in faith and community networks to put low wages on the agenda.

The concept is simple. The NZ official Living Wage rate is calculated to be enough for workers and families to, not just survive, but thrive. This means enough money for the essentials and a little bit extra for modest leisure activities like an occasional trip to the movies.

Crucially, it also means that many workers get the opportunity to spend more quality time with their families or just relaxing. Too many workers on low wages put in huge hours, often outside of normal working hours, just to pay the bills.

There have been many Living Wage victories for workers in Aotearoa. Many councils across the country are making significant moves towards paying the Living Wage to directly employed workers and those employed by contractors. Over 80 businesses are on board as well, from huge employers like Vector and the Wiri Licencing Trust, to small businesses like Bicycle Junction, to unions, community groups, and more. The lowest waged workers at Parliament, who work long arduous hours to keep the place running, have always been a strong symbol of the relationship between the Living Wage Movement and politics.

The issue was highlighted by many years ago by then Labour Party leader Phil Goff in a function at parliament for the cleaners. In recent years the Green Party ran a Clean Up the House campaign, where Labour and Green MPs spent a night working with the parliamentary cleaners to bring attention to their work and their pitiful pay. While MP salaries have soared, the people that cleaned their offices day and night have only been paid just above the minimum wage. But the Government is fixing that.

I joined members of the union for cleaners and caterers at Parliament, E tū, and supporters from the movement and from Labour, New Zealand First and the Green Party, yesterday as the details were announced. Caterers will be moving up to the full Living Wage rate, which increases every year, by July 2019. Cleaners will follow in January 2020. There will be steps towards the Living Wage over that period.

It’s great to see the new Government work so quickly to address a simple issue that is right on their doorstep.

After nine years of a National Government, too many workers are suffering. Our new Government has a massive task ahead to end poverty in Aotearoa. There are so many challenges including housing, healthcare, education, and welfare – but we know that one of the easiest ways to bring working people out of poverty is to address low wages.

That the Government is so quick to get their own House in order on this front is a promising sign of things to come!

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