Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Laila Harre's restaurant workers will be paid a 'living wage'

Laila Harre will begin paying staff at her Auckland seafood restaurant almost $20 an hour. Photo / Getty Images
Laila Harre will begin paying staff at her Auckland seafood restaurant almost $20 an hour. Photo / Getty Images

Former Internet Party leader Laila Harre has promised to lift staff wages at her Auckland seafood restaurant to almost $20 an hour - matching the new "living wage" rate unveiled today.

The Living Wage campaign announced at 3.30pm that the living wage will increase on July 1 from $19.25 to $19.80 an hour, just over $3 an hour higher than the median wage of $16.63 in the retail and accommodation sector, which includes restaurants.

The rate is calculated by the Anglican Church's Family Centre research unit in Lower Hutt as the hourly rate required to provide the "basic necessities" for a family of two adults and two children, with one adult working 40 hours and one 20 hours a week.

It was originally calculated as $18.40 an hour in February 2013, and has been raised since then in line with the average wage. The latest increase matches a 2.8 per cent increase in the average hourly ordinary-time wage from $28.23 in June 2014 to $29.01 last June.

The living wage remains about one-third higher than the legal minimum wage, which was raised from $14.25 to $14.75 an hour last April. Cabinet is due to decide today on a further increase, likely to be to $15 or $15.25, from this April.

Laila Harre, 50, a former minister in Helen Clark's Labour-led Government, stood down as leader of Kim Dotcom's Internet Party after the 2014 election and now owns and manages the Ika Seafood Bar and Grill in Mt Eden Rd, which became Auckland's first living-wage restaurant this month.

She said most of her six part-time waiting and kitchenhand staff earned $16 to $17.50 until this month.

Waitress Chloe King, 30, has worked in hospitality for 11 years and said she was seldom paid more than the minimum wage, most recently $14.75 an hour at the RSA in Howick until December. She now earns $19.25 an hour at Ika.

"I finally was able to go to the doctor, which I'd been putting off for some time because I wasn't able to afford it," she said. "Effectively you live in poverty if you are being paid the minimum wage."

Part-time kitchenhand Krishat Malhotra, 19, a business student from India, said the pay increase gave him an extra $35 in the hand on top of his previous net income of $330 a week, allowing him to save a little after paying $100 for rent and meeting other living costs.

Head chef Jess Dowlman, 28, who was earning $18 an hour at her previous job on Waiheke Island before joining Ika a month ago, said her new wage of "a little bit higher" than $19.25 an hour would let her become debt-free for the first time in years.

"I have dentist and car debt," she said.

Meanwhile a Living Wage campaign report has found that Auckland Council and its subsidiaries now have more employees earning $100,000 or more (1912) than earning below $19.25 an hour (1840).

The council's pay structure has become more unequal since the figures were last calculated as at June 2012. Those earning $100,000 or more have increased from 11.5 per cent of the council's 10,157 employees in 2012 to 16.8 per cent out of 11,380 employees in June 2015, but those earning under $19.25 an hour have also grown from 15.4 per cent to 16.2 per cent of all employees.

Lawyer Catriona MacLennan, who wrote the report, said lifting that bottom sixth of the council's workforce to the living wage would cost less than 0.02 per cent of the council budget - much less than the amount being paid to the best-paid sixth.

She said: "Wouldn't it be great if those people earning the most gave up a little of their pay so everyone could have enough to live on?"

On the web:

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