On Wednesday the 24th of June Wellington City Council voted nine to six in favour of paying its contract staff the living wage of 19.25 an hour. The ‘MOP’ march began outside the Wesley Church on Taranaki Street with a hot breakfast and speeches from the CTU president Helen Kelly and Bishop Justin Duckworth. Lots of people had brought mops to represent support for the cleaners who keep Wellington’s community spaces running and yet are paid almost as little as legally possible. At 8:45 am roughly 200 people marched from the church to Civic Square. The march was led by council employed cleaners and the Brass Razoo Solidarity Band. Among the crowd were a wide range of Wellingtonians, faith groups, unions, workers, and the ISO.
In January 2014, the Council had moved some 500 directly employed staff to the living wage yet contract staff such as cleaners and security guards remained on much less, with some earning just 14.75 and hour. These are the workers who keep Wellington’s libraries, museums, pools and parks safe and running. They often finish work in the early hours of the morning and can’t afford, don’t have the time and don’t have the energy, to be part of the community that they help maintain. After finishing work at 2:30am that morning, cleaning supervisor Angela Toa was at the demonstration on Wednesday.
She said “We need it. We need it. It’s hard to live.” And that “I’ve spoken to other cleaners who are already on the living wage and their lives have changed.”
The Living Wage Movement began in Auckland in May 2012 and the Wellington group was formed in August 2012. It became an incorporated society in April 2013 known as Living Wage Movement Aotearoa NZ and is comprised of faith based religious groups, unions and community/secular groups. Their mission statement is:
“A living wage is the income necessary to provide workers and their families with the basic necessities of life. A living wage will enable workers to live with dignity and to participate as active citizens in society. We call upon the Government, employers and society as a whole to strive for a living wage for all households as a necessary and important step in the reduction of poverty in New Zealand.”
However, the Council did vote in the bill with a qualification. 3 News reports that “A council spokesman says the spending will be on a case-by-case basis and subject to a number of performance and Local Government Act requirements, which means it is not guaranteed workers will get the increase.”
Despite this qualification, the council has committed $250,000 for 2016 and $500,00 each year for the next nine years to fund it. The ISO congratulates the hard work of Living Wage Wellington and will continue to support the rights of workers to live and not merely survive.
This good move at Wellington City Council can help us put the pressure on elsewhere. The next step needs to be keeping up the campaign to make Victoria University a Living Wage employer.