Wayne Thompson is a NZ Herald reporter.

Mayor's wage proposal hasty: Brewer

Councillor Cameron Brewer (left) is critical of Mayor Len Brown's move to institute a living wage. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Councillor Cameron Brewer (left) is critical of Mayor Len Brown's move to institute a living wage. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Auckland Councillor Cameron Brewer says Mayor Len Brown is "jumping the gun" by proposing to lift all council staff to a living wage before knowing its effects on services or trimming $100,000-plus salaries.

Tabling his proposed budget yesterday, Mr Brown called for a debate on whether the council should make budget provision for paying at least $18.40 an hour.

This would come in over three years and cost $3.75 million.

Mr Brown said the cost could be recovered from savings in the budgets in other parts of council.

He also proposed a remuneration policy for setting wage scales for the council's 8500 employees to get "best bangs for the bucks" and ensure upper level salaries were not inflated.

However, Mr Brewer said the mayor was putting political expediency before good process.

In September, the previous council resolved that any extra costs from a living wage policy would come from the council's existing $702 million wage and salary budget.

The mayor was ignoring that by asking for the money to be found from all around the council. This had the potential to affect council service levels.

Councillors had neither a comprehensive report on the effects of the proposal nor how six-figure salaries and staff numbers would be slowed.

"The council's own business advisory panel, many business leaders and owners, as well as ratepayers are genuinely concerned about this matter.

"One of the concerns is that the $3.75 million annual cost is only the start and that it could trigger wage inflation throughout the whole organisation, with the prospect of increasing contractor bills also a real possibility."

Mr Brown said a decision on adopting a living wage would be made in May-June next year after community feedback.

He proposed it would be "cost neutral" because the money would be found within existing budgets but whether it would come from existing salaries was "a matter for debate".

He said the cost would not impact on the delivery of frontline services.

However, councillor Cathy Casey said a living wage "needs to happen now" rather than over three years for both council and contracting staff.

Mr Brown said adopting a policy for council contractors was a big issue to be explored but this could be on a progressive basis as each contract was re-tendered.

Public Service Association national secretary Brenda Pilott said more than 1600 Auckland Council workers earned below $18.40 an hour.

Smaller rates rise proposed

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has proposed that an average rates rise of 2.5 per cent in 2014 will allow the same levels of service.

Mr Brown said 2014 was the final year of the three-year budget set by the former council and a rise of 4.9 per cent had been forecast. However, changes in costs and projects allowed the smaller rise.

New projects to be considered by the new council included a $1.6 million operating grant towards the Tamaki Redevelopment Company - a joint housing venture between the council and the Government.

His proposed staged introduction of a living wage policy for council staff would require $1.25 million in 2014.

The annual plan budget will be adopted on November 21 and will go out to community consultation, which usually draws between 1000 and 1500 views.

- NZ Herald

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