‘Living wage’ and Dunedin City Council

I have been having a debate on the so called ‘living wage’ in the Dunedin mayoralty campaign after the incumbent mayor announced at a forum that he was advising the DCC CEO to implement a ‘living wage’ – although he said he didn’t know how much it was set at!

I have particular concerns about this being done without consulting the elected council, interested parties like the Chamber of Commerce or the public.

I requested information from the council and they have responded – detailed here: DCC acting CEO responds on ‘living wage’

I have also posted my thoughts on it, and I’ll repeat that here.

My thoughts on a ‘living wage’ at DCC

The council’s primary responsibility is to it’s ratepayers and all the people of the city. Many people have concerns about increasing costs and rates, including me.

DCC should also be a responsible employer and pay it’s employees a fair wage for the work done.

I think a one size fits all ‘living wage’  is the wrong approach. The DCC as employer should have flexibility.

If a minimum wage is set too high it can make it much harder for people, especially young people and lower skilled people, to get their first job.

Often I hear people talking of  ‘the good old days’ when we had virtually full employment and it was easy to leave school and walk straight into a job.

I started my first career job in 1973, as a trainee telephone technician with NZPO. I started on $1.00 an hour, $2080 a year. If I completed training I would have doubled that to about $4000.

There was a normal expectation to start low and work your way up.

Expecting everyone to start work on a comfortable living wage raises expectations beyond what real life delivers, and can raise costs above what employers can afford – which means they will employ less people, or no people.

I think the biggest emphasis needs to be on having more jobs, so more people can get off a benefit and earn their own income.

Then we can look at improving skills, increasing experience and improving wage rates.

Just throwing a blanket of money at problems doesn’t solve them – it often has unintended consequences and can create bigger problems – job losses and inflation being major concerns.

I’d love for everyone to live comfortably, happily, safely and healthily. I’ll do what I can to get closer to that ideal. But it’s not something that can be simply fixed by rating and taxing more and artificially forcing up wage rates.

And paramount in a DCC context is that any application of based emotionally charged ideology should be accompanied by wide and robust consultation and discussion.

It is not a decision for the mayor to promote on his own.


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