Mackenzie council considering adopting living wage

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by Greta Yeoman

Mackenzie District Council is “exploring” the adoption of the living wage, while Timaru and Waimate district councils have indicated no plans to change the status quo.

The question to councils regarding the wage follows a meeting on Sunday organised by South Canterbury living wage advocates, as well as the announcement by the Dunedin City Council last week that it would become an accredited living wage employer.

The living wage is considered to be the minimum necessary for a worker to cover their basic needs.

Despite the Government increasing the minimum wage to $17.70 an hour earlier this year, it is still several dollars lower than the 2019 living wage of $21.15.

In a statement, Waimate District Council chief executive Stuart Duncan said the council had discussed becoming an accredited living wage employer and had “decided for the time being not to pursue this”.

He said that most council staff were, however, paid above the living wage rate, three staff earning below $20 per hour.

The living wage concept is valuable but should not be looked at in isolation

“We do believe our pay rates are fair and reasonable for the Waimate district based on costs for housing and other essentials.”

A spokeswoman for the Mackenzie District Council said it was “currently investigating and exploring” becoming an accredited living wage employer.

Timaru District Council communications manager Stephen Doran said the council had discussed it late last year, and councillors had decided not to pursue the living wage.

At present, only Wellington and Dunedin city councils pay their staff and contractors a living wage.

Christchurch City Council announced it would pay its staff a living wage in 2017, but this did not include employees at council-owned organisations.

South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce chief executive Wendy Smith said most businesses understood the need to look after their staff, and the majority of the region’s employers were “excellent”.

South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce chief executive Wendy Smith

She said employees looked for a range of conditions in a job, including “fair pay”, but added that although the living wage had not been a “focus” of the chamber, being a “great employer” featured highly on the services offered by the organisation.

“The living wage concept is valuable but should not be looked at in isolation [however].”

“The ability to pay is also a critical factor and when margins are tight and sales are just not occurring, some businesses may find themselves unable to pay the living wage.”

Anglican Care social justice advocate Ruth Swale said Sunday’s meeting had prompted a small, but interested, turnout of about 20 people.

The group’s plans now included canvassing the views of council candidates about the living wage, as well as identifying and promoting local businesses that pay the wage, Ms Swale said.