COVID-19 is having an impact on all New Zealanders — every person, whānau, community and business. It’s been a week since we entered Level 4 lockdown and this is a scary and uncertain time, especially for those struggling with the many issues that the vulnerable face in this unprecedented situation.
Amongst the most vulnerable are low paid workers and their families. Workers are facing huge uncertainty around their jobs and incomes. Many thousands of our lowest paid workers are keeping the country going in essential services. Over the past few days, we have seen huge public support for supermarket workers and others such as cleaners and security guards who have long been on rates close to the minimum wage. These workers are finally being recognised for their huge value to our society and we all owe them thanks. But we need to not just thank these workers but ensure that the future includes them being paid the Living Wage.
In response to the crisis, our member organisations are facing the challenges of staying connected and supporting their people. Our faith groups are reaching out to their communities. Our unions are organising around the clock to save jobs and ensure workers are protected. Our community organisations are keeping health services open, housing the homeless, supporting refugee communities and upholding the most vulnerable. The values of relationship and community are more important than ever.
Our Living Wage Employers also face huge challenges and our thoughts and support are with them, as some struggle to work out how they can stay afloat, while remaining committed to doing the right thing by their staff and demonstrating the values that motivated them to become accredited. But we are also hearing stories from our Living Wage Employers about the amazing things they are doing to help their workers, other businesses and the community to weather the impact of COVID-19.
We can’t know what lies ahead in the coming months, but we do know that the Living Wage Movement is strong because it is built on shared values. Over the coming weeks it will be important that we lean on our values of supporting each other and reaching out to unite our diverse communities to get through the immediate crisis, work together to protect the most vulnerable in our society and build a future where wage inequality is a thing of the past and all workers are valued.
As the Research Director of BERL, Dr Ganesh Nana, has said: “Right now, everything is uncertain but there will still be a future. Our immediate response to COVID-19 should also plan for the future. Everyone has to make adjustments, but we cannot put the burden of adjustment on those most vulnerable. Those of us in positions of power and influence have a responsibility to protect the vulnerable and part of that protection is to ensure they have a Living Wage.”