Thursday, 4 April 2013

on council paying a living wage

one of the issues that has come to the fore in hamilton politics is the living wage campaign.  councillor dave macpherson came out in the medai supporting the campaign and calling for the council to move to paying a living wage to all staff.

he got a considerable amount of pushback, starting from the mayor, and continuing on with various letters to the editor.  the usual line against the policy are twofold: one that it would be too expensive & rates are high enough as it is.  the other is that all other wages would have to move up to keep the differential.

the latter point is spurious, as far as i'm concerned.  the difference in wages between the highly paid & the lower paid workers is far too great in our society.  there is no need for it to be so great.  and i subscribe to the notion that we should value human labour enough that every person is able to earn enough to live on from working a reasonable number of hours (which really shouldn't be more than 40 per week).

the fact is that the living wage campaign actually takes into account working for families payments, so that the $18.40 only becomes a living wage because government is subsidising employers.  actually, if we believe that humans beings should have a decent quality of life from the fruits of their labour, then wages need to be much higher than that.

but let's go with the $18.40.  the differential in wages represents higher levels of skills and training.  i'd agree that there should be some differential to account for the fact that some people have taken time out of the workforce to gain a higher level of competence in a particular area.  the crucial question is: how much more should they earn?  because, at a certain point, the differential is no longer about remuneration for a increased level of skills and experience, and becomes more about elitism.

i don't see why we should pay for elitism, and particularly not from our rates.  so, as far as i'm concerned, reducing the differential is a good thing - it's a way to remove unnecessary inequality from our society.

then there comes the question of affordability.  the article i linked to above puts the cost for hamilton city council at $170,000.  given the size of the budget of the city council, this is hardly a large sum.  and the benefits - not just for the individuals who will receive that higher wage but for the city - are actually going to be spread across the city.

this is because we know that people on lower wages, when they get a pay rise, will be spending that money rather than saving it - usually because it's a matter of necessity.  that money then circulates through the local economy, stimulating growth.  of course $170,000 won't stimulate too much growth, but if it encourages other employers to raise their wages, then you get a flow-on effect with more people at the bottom end of the economy having more money to spend.

but mostly, on this issue, i really find it hard to figure out how people can justify in their own minds the payment of wages at a level that leave people in poverty and distress.  if you can't work your way out of poverty, then there is no hope, no future.  it leads to hopelessness and helplessness, and from there to frustration and anger.  why would you not prefer to have a society where people are healthy and comfortably off?  it makes no sense to me.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

suspect council could fund this by capping the maximum salary it pays at somewhere under 200,000.