Living Wage Porirua

On 21 August 2014 Porirua held their first Living Wage community meeting.

Pastor Sione Leasi from the local Samoan Assembly of God congregation told Pacific Guardians, “This is good for our communities. I’m glad I am here to show the support from our church.”

Father Penehe Patelehio of the Porirua East parish was equally enthusiastic. The positive uptake for the movement was summed up by host, Rev Hiueni Nuku of the Combined Union Parish, “Let’s not waste anymore time. Let’s get started, our people and our community need the Living Wage now.”

Also present to provide details from a national perspective were officers from the Services and Foodworkers Union (SFWU) headed by National Secretary, Mr John Ryall. Mana MP Kris Faafoi and the Green Party’s Pacific spokesperson Ms Jan Logie also turned up to hear the community’s voice on the matter.

They heard members agreeing that the Living Wage will make a significant difference to the fortunes of Porirua City and lives of its citizens. Currently, Porirua City is home to the largest Pacific population (13,500) outside of Auckland. And on record, it is one of the highest needs areas in the country. Statistics reveal Pacific islanders in the area are one of the most at risk and vulnerable groups in the country. It is where members at the meeting reached a consensus that the Living Wage would go a long way to lift Porirua’s high needs communities out of poverty and dependency.

Participants were inspired by the fact the Living Wage, as a policy, works. That is because not all of them came to the meeting looking to the Living Wage as a vehicle to higher wages. There were a number of participants who are on or above the Living Wage rate. They came to the meeting looking for ways to extend the Living Wage rate to their working colleagues who do the same amount of work, working the same hours and conditions but are earning below the rate.

It is why there was unanimous support because Living Wage success stories from overseas places like the United Kingdom show such policies can, and do work if communities demand political leaders that is what they want. So far, the signs are positive the movement is taking a firm foothold in New Zealand, and Living Wage Porirua is confident of adding to that footprint.

Currently, more than 20 New Zealand businesses can legally call themselves living wage employers. That label means they pay all staff (directly employed and those employed by their contractors, such as cleaners) at least $18.80 an hour.

One of the first companies to sign on is the Titirangi photo printing firm Opticmix run by partners Kevin Church and Diana Yukich. And ‘walking the talk’ is the SWFU, who is one of the 20 employers paying all their employees a Living Wage (at least $18.80 an hour).

But for the movement to succeed everything hinges on “communities coming together”.

It is the core foundation of the movement according to Rev Brian Dawson, spokesman for Living Wage Wellington. “The reality is this, Living Wage is only going to happen if communities get in behind it. Without having communities say this is what we want – no one’s going to move.”

United communities is the “how factor” that gave Living Wage Wellington the power to influence the Wellington City Council (WCC) to vote for paying its staff a living wage. Even though the initial Living Wage rate applies to direct staff only, it allows Living Wage Wellington to continue the conversation with Council to include indirect staff (at council controlled organisations and contractors).

“To see the power of working as a community rather than as individual groups is quite stunning,” said Rev Dawson. “What has been achieved in Wellington in two years is magical. And what has been achieved at Porirua tonight, after such a short time is amazing.”

By the end of the meeting, a small committee was established and tasked with pulling together a database of contacts and compilation of issues discussed to develop a firm step forward.

Ms Lyndy McIntyre, the communications specialist for SFWU suggested possible next steps for the Porirua committee based on the process Wellington in its formative stage, two years ago.

“In Wellington it started off with people putting their hands up and saying they are interested in working together to carry it forward. They expanded the network by listing the people who were not at the meeting and then making a point to see and talk to them about Living Wage. It was then down to that initial group of people spending time identifying who amongst local organisations would like to be part of this and building a very strong local network from there.”

It was growing that power base over two years that allowed Living Wage Wellington a platform to effectively lobby organizations like the WCC. As Rev Dawson pointed out, “When we go to Council, we go en masse because pretty soon the Council saw that each individual person they see in our group is one representative carrying the support of the community or organization they belong to.

“At the end of the day, politicians want to know if the people who vote for them support the Living Wage. So the more mobilized the people are in those communities, and all of them say the Living Wage is what they want – the more chances of getting things moving in the right direction.”

The direction for Porirua according to Ms McIntyre, “We are a long way down the track from identifying which local employers to target and the Porirua community may have completely different priorities from Wellington.

“The priority at this very early stage is not to pursue employers, but to build a local movement. It’s about growing the people’s power first.”