Forum pins down parties on the Living Wage for public service, education, and health sector workers.

On Friday 29 September, we sought commitments from parties to pay a Living Wage to employed and contracted workers in the wider state sector.

Our nationwide forum was co-hosted in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch, with candidates joining from the Wellington venue.

Almost 600 people from across the faith, union, and community groups in the Living Wage Movement attended.

Connected via video-link, speakers and attendees came together because they want to retain the progress made in the last Government, and push even further.

In 2018, the Government committed to paying workers in the core public service at least the Living Wage, and in 2021, the Government introduced procurement guidelines with Living Wage requirements for new cleaning, catering and security contracts. 

At the forum, the Movement asked political parties to continue this procurement practice in the public sector, and extend it to workers in publicly-funded education and health.

For school cleaners like Jo Mcasey, the decision is particularly important. Jo addressed politicians at the forum.

“Without cleaners, caretakers, canteen staff and grounds keepers our schools would fall apart,” said Jo.

“I was shocked and surprised to learn that is rare to see school cleaners earning a living wage. My supervisor tells me about how my teammates are struggling day to day, with their rent and ensuring that there is enough food on the table. It's a struggle we all face.”

The nationwide impact of a Living Wage in the wider state sector was represented by a banner created by sisters Barbara and Pam. Barbara and Pam have been school cleaners of over 40 years and are based in Invercargill. The banner hung proudly at the Wellington City venue, St Peter’s on Willis.

Where do the political parties stand?

The National and ACT parties declined to attend, leaving thousands of workers uncertain about their future under a National-ACT Government.

Te Pāti Māori did not send a representative to the forum. The Movement only accepts answers in person, to demonstrate the importance of showing up for our community.

Read the Living Wage Movement’s Election Asks in full here.

The Labour Party answered "Yes" to all five asks.

Ibrahim Omer represented the party, on behalf of the Deputy Prime Minister, who was affected by flight delays.

Omer shared that he understands the difference a Living Wage makes, with first-hand accounts of his experience as a cleaner and union organiser.

“I think the Labour Party’s track record speaks for itself. We’ve committed to what the Living Wage Movement has asked of us, including delivering the Living Wage in the public service," Omer said.

He addressed the attendees - “We are in this together, we’re committed to this.”

The Green Party answered "Yes" to all five questions.

Julie Anne Genter represented the party, and shared frustrations about the “excuses” used to stop workers being paid the Living Wage.

“The Green Party believes that there is enough wealth in Aotearoa that for every person can live with dignity," Genter said.

“Government has the responsibility to be a good employer. The Green Party is the only party here that will change the tax system to ensure that the government does have enough (to pay the Living Wage).”

On behalf of NZ First, Andy Foster answered "Yes" to three of the asks.

He committed that NZ First would maintain the Living Wage for workers in the public service, that this commitment would be part of any coalition agreement, and that NZ First would maintain a relationship with the Living Wage Movement to track this commitment. 

NZ First could not commit to paying at least the Living Wage to workers in the education and health sectors.

Foster told the audience that NZ First would be a Living Wage advocate in a National-led government.

“National’s not here. ACT’s not here. If you would like someone to advocate for the Living Wage in the new Government, then it’s got to be New Zealand First”, Foster said.

What happens after the Election?

The Living Wage Movement is a non-partisan organisation. We will continue to pay close attention to directly employed and contracted workers in the wider state sector, and push to ensure they can all live with dignity.

“The Government can reduce the impacts of poverty, right in their own backyard, by paying the Living Wage. The speed at which this can be achieved, and the mechanisms to make it happen are in their hands,” said Rev. Stephen King, Chair of the Living Wage Movement Governance Board.

“However, any unnecessary delays means another day that public sector workers and contractors remain on low wages.”