Labour leader David Shearer today urged the introduction of a “living wage” movement in New Zealand, paying people what they need to live on rather than just sticking to the minimum wage.
He says Kiwis have been working harder “than almost anyone in the developed world” for years but are not reaping the rewards.”
In a speech in Nelson, Mr Shearer has said the “living wage” was an idea launched overseas and he is interested in seeing it catch on here.
While it is a voluntary scheme in Britain, it has cross-party support in and thousands of employees are covered, he says.
“Enough to look after themselves’
The living wage is “the amount a person needs to earn to provide for themselves and a family” and while it is not enforced by law, a lot of employers have joined the scheme because it shows they are good employers.
It pays people more than the minimum wage and is based on costs like food, accommodation and transport.
Mr Shearer says the average NZ wage in 1989, in today’s dollars, was $21.49. By 2011, it had reached $24.43.
“But if wages grew as much as productivity for the 22 years up to 2011 then the hourly rate would have been $31.85. That’s an extra seven dollars an hour or $297 a week that the average worker earned but didn’t get paid,” he says.
“How many people would be wanting to go to Australia as they are now in record numbers if we paid that. Surely lifting everyone up must be the point of economic growth, or why do we bother?”
New economy needed
Mr Shearer says New Zealand needs to create a new economy – a clean, green and clever one.
He says: “The government’s answer has been for businesses to pay lower wages or push people harder for the same pay or move jobs overseas. It is now making a virtue of our low wage rates, calling it New Zealand envy. It’s as if they want to make New Zealand a truck stop on the way to Mexico.”
Mr Shearer has reiterated Labour’s policy to subsidise apprenticeships and also says its priority in government would be to see all under 20s either in work, training or education.