The Mayoral candidates and the living wage proposal

Written By: - Date published: 9:00 am, September 4th, 2016 - 29 comments
Categories: auckland supercity, business, capitalism, cost of living, Economy, jobs, local body elections, local government, minimum wage, supercity, wages, workers' rights - Tags:

Photo (c) Jason Fell

Photo (c) Jason Fell

I attended the Living Wage People’s assembly this week in St Matthews in the City.  The idea behind the meeting was to get Mayoral and Waitemata ward candidates to express their views on the living wage proposal as well as improved public transport services and rental accommodation standards.  The organiser was Living Wage Aotearoa who have been proud champions of the concept.

At the beginning of the meeting Annie Newman laid out the challenge to all candidates and asked them to pledge that all Auckland city staff, whether employed or contracted, should be paid a living wage.

She wanted an indication of political will from the candidates.

She said that paying a living wage is a matter of fairness.  Over the past couple of decades there has been such an overwhelming transfer of wealth away from ordinary working people that something has to be done.

Catriona McLennan was invited to speak.

She talked about how the chief executive of the Council was paid $690,000 per annum and received a $60,000 pay rise last December.  How senior managers paid between $340,000 and $680,000 were all male and mostly pakeha. And how staff below the living wage are predominately female and Pacifica.

She proposed that the people at the top should be paid a bit less so that those on the bottom could be paid more.

She also proposed a variety of slight adjustments in how Council spends its money so that it can pay a living wage.

She concluded by noting that if you want create the world’s most liveable city it has to be a living wage city.  And a city cannot be the world’s most liveable city if it’s workers cannot afford to live there.

Then an Auckland Council cleaner spoke.  She was a Tongan woman called Melina.  She described how  her family came to New Zealand for a better life. She has six children aged between 9 and 19.  Her goal in life is to give her kids a good education so that they can have a better future.

She was the cleaner responsible for cleaning the mayors office.  She worked from 5:30 pm to 3:30 am for $15.60 per hour. She had a recent wage increase of a paltry 0.25c an hour.

She likes the Mayor and the job but she said that the pay is too low.  She called for Auckland Council to do the right thing and pay the living wage.  Hers was the best speech of the night.

It was then time for the candidates to speak.  Each candidate was given two minutes to talk about the issue and then were asked a series of questions and invited to say yes or no to these questions.

The three questions were:

  1. Did they support a living wage for staff and those regularly employed by contractors of Council as well as CCOs,
  2. Did they support requiring the successful tenderer of the 2017 renewal of cleaning services employ staff paid a living wage, and
  3. Did they support the establishment of a sub committee of Council to support implementation of a living wage and that the committee includes members of Living Wage Aotearoa.

First up was Chloe Swarbrick.  She is an impressive young woman who spoke well.  She said that she is standing because she is concerned because only 34% voted at the last election and these were usually older people who are home owners. She referred to the crisis of homelessness and how families are living living in cars. She clearly thought that Council should pay a living wage.

Her answers to the questions were yes, yes and she did not have enough information so no.

Phil Goff was next and he referred to his statement made that day supporting a living wage. In his view the first step has to be for Council and CCOs to pay a living wage. He then wants to have it extended to contractors as a second step.

He said he was conscious that Len Brown wanted to deliver a living wage and could not because of the political realities.

He stated that $4.1 million was required to pay to permanent staff is affordable and this sum could be found through efficiencies.

He was opposed to requiring the cleaning contract to mandate the payment of a living wage as he thought that politicians should not interfere

He was happy to work with Living Wage Aotearoa to implement the policy.

His answers were yes with a qualification, no – will not interfere in process, and yes.

John Palino was next.  He talked about his restaurant business and how it backs onto Bruce Pulman Park. He said how the homeless have been there for a while. And how he has been feeding them and how they do not want soup after 9 pm because the toilets are then shut.

He contended that Auckland’s growth plan is pushing people out to the suburbs and away from work.

He says that he cares about people but how there was more than one way to resolve this problem, more than just paying a living wage.

His answers were that supports it but does not feel we should be involved in other companies business, no and yes.

Then Mark Thomas was up.  He is clearly seeking the mandate of the right and has been spending his time chipping at Phil Goff clearly in an attempt to try and create a headline.  He got off the wrong foot by saying that this was the most political non partisan meeting he has been there.  In his view a mayor has to be mayor for everyone and that he wants progress on transport and housing.

This is why he will not support a living wage. He wants wage increases for everyone but wants to fix Council costs and these will improve living conditions.

His answers were predictably, no no and no.

The there was the opposite extreme.  Penny Bright received the biggest cheer of the night by describing herself as the Bernie Sanders of the Auckland Mayoral race. She railed against the corporate 1% and stated that contracting out is more expensive than employing staff.

She received another huge cheer by advocating that Council should bring services back in house, and do away with contractors and consultants.

Her answers were categorical.  Absolutely yes, absolutely yes and yes.

David Hay then spoke.  He stated how he had enjoyed working at Manukau Council with its flat management structure and its philosophy of looking after its workers.

He proposed that Council’s Chief Executive should be paid a multiple of the living wage, and suggested 10 times. He believed that a living wage could be achieved by having fewer managers and paying them less.

His answers were yes, yes and absolutely yes.

Vic Crone and Bill Ralston had been invited but not were not there.  Photographs of them adorned the seats set aside for them.

Mike Lee spoke last.  He said how Auckland has major challenges, housing, transport, infrastructure and social equity.  He thought that our unequal society is a cancer eating away at the heart of the city.  He noted how over the past few decades there has been a major flow of money to the top portion of the population.  He thought it unconscionable that 1800 council employees are on less than the living wage, and noted how 60% are women and most are young.

His answers were yes, yes, and yes.

The second part of the meeting sought candidates’ commitments to supporting a comprehensive transport system and a review of night and weekend services to support workers as well as questions relating to Council initiating a voluntary scheme for warrant of fitness for rental properties and interest free loans being made available to land owners.

The order was reversed and Mike Lee spoke first.  He thought that transport was an important issue. When he was chair of the Auckland Regional Council he had led drive to electrify trains and supported City Rail Link. He also said that as a board member he had voted against every fare increase proposed by Auckland Transport. In his view AT does not understand what a fare increase means to working people who rely on public transport.

His answers were yes, yes, yes and yes to the four questions.

David Hay was next.  He started by noting that to get to a carbon neutral city we need rapid transit which is electrically powered.  If he was elected Mayor housing would be a priority, especially emergency housing for the homeless. He said that he would sell the airport shares to do this.

His answers were absolutely, yes, yes, and yes with a caveat on the value of the home.

Penny Bright said there was no such thing as public transport, there are ten private bus companies, four private ferry owners and a French company running the trains. If Mayor she would make the system truly public.

In relation to housing she was totally opposed to sell off of state or public housing to private groups, even churches.

Her answers were yes, yes, yes and yes.

Mark Thomas said that transport and housing costs are some of the biggest problems. The living wage request should be addressed to the Government.  He supports the busway being extended further north and out west. He thought however that light rail was gold plated.

His answers – the principle is right but since the organisers could not tell him how much it would cost he would not commit so no, no, yes, and no.

Phil Goff mentioned how his grandad drove trams around Auckland. In the 1950s each year trams carried more people on public transport than occurred last year. He believed that there needs to be comprehensive and improved PT. And he thought that housing is a basic human right. If you want your kids to grow up healthy and educated how are they going to do this without adequate housing?

His answers were yes, no, yes even compulsory, and not across the board.

John Palino gave a similar response to his original response and said that a city has to have jobs located where people live.

His answers were yes, no, yes and no I think.

Chloe Swarbrick said that she does not own a home or a car and that she regularly uses public transport. This gives her a completely different perception to the others. She is worried about homelessness and that housing is increasingly unaffordable and where this is leading us.

Her answers were absolutely, yes, yes but should be compulsory, and no because of universality.

Then the meeting concluded and with a song which was beautifully rendered it was over,

My impressions of the candidates?

  • Phil Goff performed strongly although his answer concerning the cleaning contract would not have won friends.  He is clearly the front runner with huge experience and it is hard to see him losing.
  • Penny Bright had a good night and gave possibly the clearest most unequivocal commitments.
  • Mark Thomas would not have won any votes that night and appeared to be intent on picking a fight with Goff.
  • John Palino was an odd combination of humanitarian thoughts mixed up with rather right wing beliefs and also would have picked up no votes.
  • Mike Lee was principled and direct and I hope he is returned to Council.
  • David Hay was pretty good but somewhat crowded out on the left.
  • And Chloe Swarbrick performed remarkably well and is doing something really important, expressing the hopes and aspirations of our young people.

All in all it was an enjoyable evening.  And it underlined the importance of voting.  Particularly if you want to live in the world’s most liveable city.  One that pays a living wage.

Reprinted from

29 comments on “The Mayoral candidates and the living wage proposal”

  1. Goff’s answers are really disappointing. He’s got such an obvious advantage in the race it would be no skin off his nose to take a strong, progressive stance on the living wage.

    As to not mandating that the council cleaning contract involve a living wage – businesses already do this! No, they can’t demand that a particular contractor pay all its staff a living wage all the time, but you can at least ensure the people who are cleaning up your office are being paid a living wage to do so.

    His continued focus on “efficiencies” is sadly buying into the rightwing mindset that the only thing that matters in local body politics is the rates bill. As the Living Wage and Jobs That Count campaigns show, it’s about so much more, and the mayor of our largest city should know that.

    • To take a progressive stance you have to believe being a progressive is the right thing, (or at least a politically advantageous thing) and unfortunately Goff has proven that he’s a centrist at heart that deeply believes in triangulation.

      While it’ll be great to limit the damage he can do in Parliament it’s sad to see more centrists inflicting themselves on local government, it looks like Labour is going to sweep our two biggest cities this year despite the Greens virtually owning Wellington because of Celia’s late withdrawal, too.

      • Chris 1.1.1

        “While it’ll be great to limit the damage he can do in Parliament it’s sad to see more centrists inflicting themselves on local government,”

        Yes, it’s a shame about local government, but for every Goff Labour loses it can always boost numbers by dredging up a Nash or a Davis.

  2. Keith 2

    The irony is the amount set for the living wage no longer applies to Auckland. Its out of control property prices have destroyed that hope and are now doing an imitation of a bull in a china shop to our economy. And even now attracting high skilled people on far more money to fill vacancies is increasingly a non starter for the same reason.

    As for PT I am wondering why Goff thought no to improved weekend and night services. What is wrong with that?

  3. Anne 3

    Chloe Swarbrick was on Waatea Fifth Estate several times and made an excellent impression. Articulate and clued up for one so young – 21/22 years of age. I think she could turn out to be a leader for the future.

  4. The Real Matthew 4

    Which Living Wage are the candidates committing too?

    The original calculation plus 5% or the real Living Wage calculation which came to over $22 an hour?

    • Chris 4.2

      Where/who did the “real Living Wage calculation which came to over $22 an hour” come from?

      • Probably David Farrar – he’s persistently tried to undermine the work of the Living Wage movement by pulling numbers out of thin air.

        There are a lot of ways to calculate what a living wage would look like but Living Wage Aotearoa set their baseline in 2014 and I think adjust annually to meet the CPI.

        The really sad thing about all the rightwingers who try to derail conversations about the living wage is that they seem to think this is some kind of game they can win by “disproving” the Living Wage campaign’s calculations. And all they really do is make it clear they don’t care about people, and they don’t believe that people who work should be paid enough to feed their kids and keep a roof over their heads.

        • In Vino

          Well said, Stephanie. How many of these hypocrites would seriously consider working long-term themselves for the pittances they advocate?

        • mickysavage

          Yep the basic premise of their argument is that no one can say exactly what the figure should be so therefore there is no problem whereas anyone grounded in reality, particularly in Auckland, knows there is a crisis.

        • Macro

          And all they really do is make it clear they don’t care about people, and they don’t believe that people who work should be paid enough to feed their kids and keep a roof over their heads.


          And the really sad thing is that there appears to be so many of them.

        • mosa

          “Pulling numbers out of thin air” sound like Key has been giving advice again on how to deceive the masses, its worked bloody well up till now.

  5. UncookedSelachimorpha 5

    Goff’s statement that ‘efficiencies’ are the only potential source of funding to correct inequality and poverty shows that he is stuck in a neoliberal mindset – or at least he doesn’t want to challenge the neolib lie that tax and redistribution are inherently bad.

    We are a very wealthy country and the truth is that we simply need to redistribute some of the wealth owned by the very wealthy. Saying that inequality and poverty in NZ can be solved with efficiency savings is cowardly, divorced from reality, a red herring and a lie.

    • In Vino 5.1


    • Macro 5.2

      Yes his calculation of an extra $4m is a pittance spread over all rate payers in Auckland (and yes I am one of them) I would gladly pay a little extra in rates to ensure that all workers were paid a living wage. I also think the CEO’s and upper management might look to themselves a little more as well.

    • Chris 5.3

      But could we really expect anything better from him? Really? Just look at where he’s come from, and what that somewhere represents. Goff’s always been in the thick of it. Ain’t no changing now.

    • dave 5.4

      no hes not hes correct there is colossal waste 10 people required make decisions consultants being brought in to avoid responsibility duplication of bureaucracy across the whole organization lets take one example community art galleries are run by council staff not the community ,there 250 people involved in hiring out community halls that bugger all people use projects that never get to tender because the entire budget has been eaten up by staff and consultants taking the entire budget no i think goff will find a right mess if he looks .
      theres been no money for the low paid contract staff while the fat cats on staff at the council have been paid well

  6. Open mike 6

    Unbelievable that candidates, Ralston and Crone, who expect to be taken seriously by voters, choose to not attend such a meeting. No regards for their disrespect . Although I may not support some of the reported views at least the people who have them showed respect by attending.

  7. dave 7

    most people who need the living wage are on contracts if council staff are going get the living wage contract staff should get it to

    • Craig H 7.1

      Agreed, even if it’s by increasing the contract payments accordingly, or by making it among the tender requirements going forward.

  8. Craig H 8

    I did a budget exercise about saving for a house for a family on median income recently. Here’s another living wage effort for a family of 4 with 2 working parents working 60 hours per week between them (in line with Living Wage guidelines) – I will assume one is doing 40, the other 20, and that the 2 children are in school, so no childcare is required. Since we’re saving for a house, I will assume both partners will avail themselves of Kiwisaver of 3%, and that the matching employer contributions are extra to the salary (rather than a TRP). I will further assume both parents have student loans.

    Annual budget:

    Gross (before tax) Income = $20,592 + $41,184 = $61,776
    PAYE = $2,909.40 + $6,799.52 = $9,708.92
    Student Loan deductions = $180.96 + $2,652 = $2,832.96
    Kiwisaver deductions = $617.76 + $1,235.52 = $1,853.28
    Net wages = $47,380.84 = $911.17 per week.

    Working for Familes = $6,136 = $118 per week.
    Accommodation supplement = $1,144 = $22 per week.

    Net income = $1051.17 (was $1,551 under the 2 x median income budget)

    Rent = $23,400 ($450 per week)
    Internet = $624 ($52 per month)
    Cell Phone plan = $384 ($16 x 2 per month – 2 prepaid bundles)
    Power + Water = $2,760 ($200 + $30 per month)
    Groceries = $11,960 ($200 food, $30 other groceries, total $230 per week)
    Transport = $7,800 ($150 per week – assumes 2 cars, 2 children in school, fuel, WOF, registration, maintenance)
    Insurance = $1,200 ($100 per month – contents, car x 2, life x 2)
    Clothing = $1,040 ($20 per week, includes footwear and school uniforms)
    Medical/dental = $520 ($10 per week)
    Education – $2,000 (2 children, includes stationery, school donation, camps/trips/discos etc.)
    Childcare (OSCAR) – $1,000 (2 children, assumed some school holiday programmes only and $4 per child, per hour subsidy, as the part-time parent can arrange school transport during term time and they can use some leave to care for the children)

    Total expenses = $52,688

    Total available to save = $1,972.84 = $37.94/week.

    This assumes no contingencies, no holidays/entertainment, no other debts to repay, no replacing appliances or cars etc for 5 years. Some of the figures may be a bit high, some may be a bit low, some expenses are probably missing, but hopefully they even out. I made some economies from the first time I did this as well by opting for Skinny broadband and prepaid for the internet and cellphone plans and cutting back on groceries a bit (I also found an error in my original budget as the internet cost was accidentally calculated as $90/week, not $90/month), and childcare is a lot cheaper as explained above.

    The only real deposit saved here will be Kiwisaver, and that will be less than the full amount as the part-time worker does not get the full government contribution as they are not contributing $1042/year ($617.76 as above). Total Kiwisaver savings after 5 years will be:

    $13,879.12 (full timer) + $7,182.06 (part timer) + $10,000 first home grant + $1000 investment returns = $32,061.18. If they enrolled in KS earlier, they will also have another $1000 each from the government.

    May be a bit more if they opt to contribute extra to part timer’s KS to maximise the government contribution ($3000 or so over the 5 years). Realistically, even if they did manage to use a Welcome Home Loan for a cheap house, there’s no room in the budget for rates + insurance anyway.

    Also, the amount of taxation subsidy going to this couple is large, so even at what are seen as reasonable wages, there are still some serious top ups required to raise a family.

    • Bob 8.1

      Thanks for this Craig, I actually think this is one of the more accurate (‘real world’) budget assessments of the Living Wage I have seen.

      This would leave the above family needing to find a 3 bedroom house to buy for $260,000 to fit within their budget (this would leave interest repayments at $400 / week if interest rates went up to 7%, with the additional $50 / week currently spent on rent going to rates and insurance).
      This means a family on a Living Wage could reasonably expect to purchase a house…as long as they don’t live in Auckland, Hamilton or Tauranga.

      “Also, the amount of taxation subsidy going to this couple is large, so even at what are seen as reasonable wages, there are still some serious top ups required to raise a family”
      Simple solution, scrap the subsidies and introduce a UBI.

      • Craig H 8.1.1


        I’m a fan of UBI, so definitely a longer term option. I’m not opposed to tax subsidies anyway, but was really just making the point that for a Living Wage, it’s still tough going. Interestingly, the accommodation supplement is only paid in Auckland and Wellington for this income level.

        The rent would be $100 a week cheaper in Christchurch, or $200 a week cheaper in Invercargill, so the wage is more workable elsewhere.

        Incidentally, an unsubsidised living wage would be around $30 per hour.

  9. Penny Bright 9

    Looking forward to your vote Greg 🙂

    PS: I have a Union background in the Electrical Workers Union, Engineers Union and ASTE, (which includes being the Vice-President of the Wairarapa Trades Council when I was 27), and knew your Dad when he was President of the Engineers Union, knew Helen Kelly’s Dad, Pat Kelly….

    None of the other Auckland Mayoral candidates has my background in helping to better the lot of working people by organising on the factory floor.

    Penny Bright

    2016 Auckland Mayoral candidate.

    ‘Activists – get things done’.

    • Scott 9.1

      When are you going to pay your share of the rates burden instead of freeloading off the rest?

    • indiana 9.2

      ‘Activists – get things done’.

      If that is the case how come union membership in NZ has continually declined? Don’t blame the legislation because according to you “Activists” get things done, so no matter what the circumstances, you should be getting things done.

Recent Comments

Recent Posts