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New Zealand: Tough to Survive on Minimum Wage
Scoop Independent News
Service And Food Workers Union

April 1, 2011
View the Original Article

Manurewa High School cleaners are getting a pay rise today because the minimum wage has gone to $13 an hour. But the cleaners say this is not enough to live on with the cost of living rising higher than the 25 cents an hour they will gain.

Service and Food Workers Union delegate Priscilla Mita says her 15-hour a week cleaning job at Manurewa High School helps her family to survive, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult.

“Prices like milk, petrol and electricity keep going up and up. It’s tough and getting tougher,” she said.

Priscilla Mita and her fellow cleaners are employed by Seaway Cleaning Services, which has the contract to clean Manurewa High School in South Auckland.

SFWU member Julieana Kingi says her cleaning job at the high school supplements her benefit.

“There’s no way I could live on what I earn as a cleaner,” she says.

Julieana Kingi says it is really tough for her workmates to live on less than $200 a week.

The Service and Food Workers Union is negotiating with the main contractors to renew the Commercial Cleaners MECA (multi-employer collective agreement). The Union is claiming a minimum $15 living wage.

The MECA already provides for schools cleaners to be paid $14.62 an hour where the schools fund the pay increase.

SFWU Industry Leader Jill Ovens says all schools received special earmarked funding from July 2009 to fund a pay rise for school cleaners to $14.62 an hour. Schools with contracted cleaners were included in the funding allocation.

“These schools were meant to pass on the money to the contractors who are the cleaners’ employers, but many of them didn’t.”

Jill Ovens says Manurewa High School has been receiving $53,000 as an extra, separately identified payment each year for four years since July 2009. The total cost of the cleaners’ pay rise would be around $12,000 a year – less than a quarter of the extra funding that Manurewa High School receives to pay for the rise.

The Union has been trying to convince the Manurewa High School Principal and Board of Trustees to pass on the money so the cleaners can be paid the correct rate. But the school is adamant they won’t pay up.

“Taking Government funds allocated to pay for decent pay rates for cleaners and diverting the money to other purposes is a form of stealing from the poor,” Jill Ovens says.