Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Campaign launched for 'living wage'

Lopaini Kaufasi, with four of her six children, from left, Akineti, Iaeli, Peniaga and Davanny. Mrs Kaufasi and her husband Leo struggle to feed their family on their combined low wages. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Lopaini Kaufasi, with four of her six children, from left, Akineti, Iaeli, Peniaga and Davanny. Mrs Kaufasi and her husband Leo struggle to feed their family on their combined low wages. Photo / Sarah Ivey

A campaign has been launched for a "living wage" in New Zealand, inspired by policies in United States cities and London.

The Living Wage Aotearoa NZ campaign is drawing support from unions, churches, Pacific, women's and community groups.

Organiser Annie Newman of the Service and Food Workers Union said it was inspired by "living wage" policies governing council contracts in more than 140 US cities and in London, where the rate of £8.30 ($17.35) an hour is 37 per cent above the £6.08 ($12.71) legal minimum wage.

The London Olympic Delivery Authority has promised to pay the living wage to all its construction and operational contract workers, although a survey in October 2010 found that 18 per cent of them were actually being paid less than that.

In New Zealand, Labour Department research shows that 103,800 workers under 25, and 161,000 aged 25 to 64, earned less than $15 an hour in the year to last June.

Ms Newman said many worked up to 70 hours a week to feed their families on those wages.

"We identified that there were challenges for us, as a union representing low-paid workers, to lift those workers significantly so they earned enough to live on," she said.

"Often it's not the employer who holds the purse strings. So we decided that this had to be a campaign that was broad-based."

The campaign will be launched at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church in Ponsonby whose minister, the Rev Obed Edom UNasa, was a City Vision candidate for the Albert-Eden Local Board in 2010.

The campaign has yet to fix a "living wage" for New Zealand.

Wellington economist Prue Hyman, who is convening an expert group for the task, said the Greater London Council fixed its "London living wage" in two steps - first calculating a "poverty threshold" using basic living costs and a comparison with median wages, and then adding 15 per cent to cover unforeseen events.

An economist at Auckland University of Technology, Professor Tim Maloney, said any Government or council that paid higher wages to contractors would have to either cut other services or raise taxes.

"That's not a free lunch either, because some of those paying taxes are low-wage workers," he said.

"There's no free lunch out there."

NO MONEY FOR SCHOOL LUNCH

Low wages for the Kaufisis mean the children don't go to school when there is no money for lunch.

Leo Kaufisi, of New Lynn, earns $14 an hour as a dispatcher for Pacific Inks in Avondale. His wife Lopaini earns the legal minimum of $13.50 an hour as a cleaner.

Four adults and eight children live in the three-bedroom house which they rent for $350 a week - Mr and Mrs Kaufisi, their six children aged between four and 12 , Mrs Kaufisi's unemployed mother, her mother's partner, her 12-year-old sister and 10-year-old brother.

Six children sleep in one cramped bedroom.- The other children sleep with their parents.

Even with family tax credits, Mr and Mrs Kaufisi say almost all their income goes on the rent and on payments to finance companies. These total about $500 a week for furniture and other items including two cars, which were both repossessed recently when Mr Kaufisi's work permit expired.

"We have one car that was given to us by my uncle," Mrs Kaufisi said, adding that they have about $100 to live on a week.

"Mostly we live on bread and eggs and noodles. The kids have bread and chips for lunch. Yesterday they didn't have any so they didn't go to school.

"I don't send them to school if they don't have lunch. That's about once a week for one or two months or so."

Mrs Kaufisi is from Niue and has permanent residency in New Zealand, but Mr Kaufisi is from Tuvalu and has never been able to afford to apply.

"We have been struggling just for him to get enough for a work visa," Mrs Kaufisi said.

Mrs Kaufisi said their combined wages now were not enough to live on and she supported the call for a "living wage".

"With a living wage, maybe we can afford to rent our own place or buy healthy food for my kids," she said.

ON THE WEB
livingwagenz.org

- NZ Herald

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