The Mayoral candidates and the living wage proposal

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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.

I went to the recent meeting out west and took part as a candidate.  I was happy to pledge support for all of the living wage proposals and the public transport proposals.  I was also happy to pledge support for a voluntary warrant of fitness scheme for rental properties although I do believe that such a scheme should be compulsory.  My only reservation about any of the pledges was the interest free subsidy for home insulation pledge which to my mind should be means tested.

I have been a supporter of the living wage concept ever since Fala Haulangi and Diana Yukich spoke to the Waitakere Ranges Local Board about it.  I moved a resolution of support during the first term of the board and a further resolution of support during the second term and both were passed.

And I thought that I should actually walk the walk and I sought accreditation as a living wage employer for my firm.

It was not too difficult a status for my firm to achieve.  Most of my staff are well paid highly qualified professionals.  But for my two young office juniors and receptionist it did make a difference.  And since I have paid them a living wage their performance has been superb and staff turnover has been practically nil.  I believe there are strong economic and financial reasons for paying a living wage as well as strong social justice reasons.

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.

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