Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Battle for a living wage: Hard working poor families desperate for a living wage

Ana and Tupou Malolo with their children, Kalolaine, 2, and Theresa, 1, at their rented home in Otara. Photo / Greg Bowker
Ana and Tupou Malolo with their children, Kalolaine, 2, and Theresa, 1, at their rented home in Otara. Photo / Greg Bowker

The parents of every girl attending Auckland's Diocesan School for Girls pay roughly one and a half times as much in annual fees as Ana Malolo takes home for helping to clean the school all year.

Professional Property Cleaning Services pays Mrs Malolo, an Otara mother of two, $13.85 an hour for cleaning the school from 4pm to 8pm on weeknights.

Soon after she gets home each night, her husband, Tupou Malolo, leaves for an eight-hour shift from 10pm to 6am as a forklift driver at the Lion Nathan brewery, earning $14 an hour.

Lifting both of them to the proposed living wage of $18.40 an hour would raise their combined gross income by 32 per cent.

In net terms, allowing for higher tax, reduced family tax credits and higher rent on their state house because of their higher income, their net available income after rent would rise from about $585 to $691 a week - an increase of about $106, or 18 per cent.

That may not sound much to a parent who shells out $19,880 a year, plus $3600 for a compulsory notebook computer, to send a Year 9 girl to Diocesan.

But to Mrs Malolo, who brings home $12,618 a year after tax, a living wage would make the difference between debt and self-sufficiency.

"Hopefully if the living wage goes up we would be better off. At least we won't be doing catch-up," she says.

"We won't have to be stretching our arrears and demand letters and final notices and stuff.

"At least then we could look at paying off stuff instead of having to stop payments and delaying the timing of paying our stuff off."

The Malolos have two daughters - Kalolaine, 2, and Theresa, 1, both still in nappies. The family aim to spend $150 a week on groceries, but can usually afford only $80-$90. They pay $237 rent on their state house per week. They have one car, paying $90 a week in petrol to get to work. "I go to work and come back, then he goes to work," Mrs Malolo says.

Their couches are from Mr Malolo's mother. But they have bought a fridge, washing machine, TV and sound system on hire purchase, which they are paying off at a combined $80 a week. They pay $25 a week to Baycorp on an old unpaid power bill.

"We try to prioritise our bills so we are not in arrears. We are playing catch-up all the time, but it gets to a stage where you are short on food for basic things for the kids," Mrs Malolo says.

Diocesan School principal Heather McRae says the school selects its cleaning contractor through a tender and the pay rates for cleaners are up to the successful bidder.

"We have no control over what that employer then pays their employees," she says.

"I certainly care about what people need to live, absolutely. But I guess there are things that we are in control of and things we are not."

- NZ Herald

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