Auckland Council staff have told a local board that it cannot pay the "living wage" to its swimming pool attendants because it would set a precedent for other council workers.
The Albert-Eden Local Board resolved in February and again last week that a new contractor at the Mt Albert Aquatic Centre should be required to pay all staff at least the living wage, defined by unions and community groups as $19.25 an hour.
But Auckland Council chief executive Stephen Town has overruled the board and told its chairman, Peter Haynes, that the living wage would be "inconsistent with the governing body's policy position".
"I acknowledge that we are dealing with one contract for a local facility but the implications of requiring a living wage, even in one contract, will have ramifications beyond your local board's area of responsibility and would have untenable consequences for me as the employer of council staff," he said.
The council said in 2013 that it would cost $2.5 million a year to raise the wages of the 1544 staff who were earning below what was then considered the living wage - $18.40 an hour.
Mayor Len Brown made support for the living wage one of his "10 top issues" in his successful re-election campaign in October that year.
But Albert-Eden councillor Cathy Casey said a motion supporting the living wage at the first council meeting after the election was lost in the furore over Mr Brown's affair with Bevan Chuang.
"There was an expectation from everyone that night that the vote would be won," she said. "It was a very tense meeting because of the issue of the mayor's affair. The living wage issue was not well managed that night. For me, there has always been a great hurt that the vote was lost, I have a scar on my heart."
The Mt Albert Aquatic Centre has been managed by locally owned Community Leisure Management (CML) since it was built in the late 1990s. But the contract was re-tendered this year and Melbourne-based company Belgravia Leisure confirmed that it was negotiating the final details of contracts starting on July 1 for pools at both Mt Albert and Franklin, also previously run by CML.
CML managing director John Latimer said he employed about 70 staff at Mt Albert and 80 or 90 in Franklin.
The Mt Albert pool closed on April 19 for $3.2 million of repairs caused by leaky building issues.
"All the staff in Franklin are applying for jobs with Belgravia Leisure," Mr Latimer said.
Belgravia chief executive Nick Cox said he could not comment on the living wage but his company would pay higher rates than CML by "growing the business" at both sites, its first New Zealand leisure facilities.
"We are projecting significant increases in revenue."
Mayor Brown said the council's wage policy, endorsed by councillors last year, "directly addresses social equity with an on-going commitment to raising wages at lower levels".
He added: "I remain committed to the concept of a council living wage funded through existing budgets."