Unions criticise “inadequate” wage hike

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Yesterday, the government confirmed it would be boosting New Zealand’s minimum wage to $15.75 but the plan hasn’t been praised by everyone – less than 24 hours later and multiple unions have already spoken out, saying 50c extra simply isn’t enough.

“A 50 cent increase is certainly a step in the right direction but with small steps like this it will take a very long time to achieve a fairer New Zealand,” says Richard Wagstaff, president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions.

Mike Treen, national director of Unite, agrees – he says the minimum wage plays a huge role in maintaining inequality which only a significant hike would help.

"There are widespread and unacceptable levels of poverty in this country and inequality is getting out of control,” he says. “One way to address those issues in a meaningful way is to progressively increase the minimum wage in real terms."

Both Wagstaff and Treen are calling on the government to rethink the way the minimum wage is calculated, tying it to New Zealand’s average salary.

“The minimum wage needs to be two-thirds of the average wage, this would make it much fairer,” says Wagstaff.

As of April 1, the minimum wage will represent approximately 50 per cent of the national average – a level which Treen says was already achieved in 2008.

“We need to be more ambitious as a society,” he urges.

If the government was to increase the minimum wage to two thirds of the national average, it would sit at $19.88 per hour – 8c above the Living Wage.

Mat Danaher, E tū’s Living Wage campaign lead organiser, says implementing the Living Wage as the national minimum wage would make a meaningful difference to Kiwis’ lives – but any less will do little to help.

“While many will welcome the slight improvement to their finances offered by this increase, most minimum wage families will notice little difference to their circumstances,” he says. “They need a Living Wage to help pay the bills and ensure a quality life for their families.”

Union heads haven’t been the only ones to offer criticism with Labour’s workplace relations spokesperson claiming the 50c increase would be a cold comfort to many Kiwis.

“Fifty cents an hour simply is not enough to keep up with the enormous increases in housing costs that many New Zealanders currently face,” said Iain Lees-Galloway.

“A 3.3 per cent increase in wages is nothing when rents went up by 5.8 per cent last year and house prices rose by 12.5 per cent.”
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