Parliament cleaners have hit up politicians for better pay, drawing attention to their low-wage struggles at a lunch for MPs and media today.
The lunch was hosted as part of the ongoing Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU) campaign to increase the minimum wage, and politicians from several parties turned up to hear how those who clean their offices were faring on $13.50 an hour.
Sosefina Masoe, 49, was among those to speak at the lunch, and broke down her weekly expenses to illustrate the difficulties she was facing trying to meet living costs herself, her four children and four grandchildren.
After weekly bills of $70 for power, $250 for rent, and $70 for petrol, Ms Masoe said she was left with about $43 for groceries.
The typical weekly shopping was displayed next to her, and included cans baked beans and spaghetti, milk, bread, margarine, noodles, toilet paper and corned beef in a can.
"This is what low wages can afford. It's budget food, it's not healthy,'' she said.
Jaine Ikurere said she had been cleaning the prime minister's office for 19 years and received $14 an hour - the extra 50 cents because of her role as a supervisor.
"It's very sad, we all want our children to be good and have a good education, but most of us, we can't do that just because our wages are not good enough to share around,'' she said.
"We can't afford to put food on the table to feed the children, can't afford to get clothes for the children to go to school. That's why we are here, we are asking Parliament, please can you raise our wages.''
Spotless, the cleaning company contracted by Parliament, had agreed to pay cleaners $15 if clients stumped up the extra cost, and the cleaners said politicians could help immediately by pushing their case.
The minimum wage is reviewed annually, and over the past three years the Government has increased it from $12 to $12.50 in 2009, to $12.75 in 2010, and to $13 this year.
Labour has promised to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour should it be elected, and leader Phil Goff used the lunch to push his party's plans to fight poverty.
"It's really hard for a lot of New Zealanders who are struggling just to put decent food on their table.''
Mr Goff spoke about his own experience of working as a night cleaner, while struggling to make ends meet as a student.
"If the washing machine broke down you didn't know how you were going to afford to fix it. If the car broke down, it sat in the garage until you could save enough money to repair it. That's how people are living, they deserve a living wage that allows them to have the basic things.''
Speaking to media this afternoon, Prime Minister John Key said the cleaners did a good job, but pay was a matter for their employer.
"We try and make sure, as a Government, that people are paid as fairly as possible, we do want to see increases to the minimum wage but done so in such a way that we balance out any risk that people might lose their jobs.''