By NZNO president, Grant Brookes
Today we celebrate NZNO’s accreditation as a Living Wage employer. The announcement is confirmation from the Accreditation Advisory Board that NZNO has met all the criteria to wear this badge of honour.
The impact of today’s announcement won’t be felt by anyone directly employed by NZNO. They are already paid above the current Living Wage of $19.80 an hour.
But the decision to become an accredited Living Wage employer means all our contracted staff get this rate, too. So it will be felt by people like Yong, who cleans the NZNO National Office after hours.
Yong has told me that she works two cleaning jobs – both for minimum wage. She starts at a motel at 8.45am in the morning, and finishes at NZNO at 9pm at night.
Yong has now received her first pay at her new rate, and was so happy that she could buy better food at the supermarket, instead of the cheapest food. Her dream is that now she might be able to go home to China to visit her father, who she hasn’t seen in four years.
She wanted me to write this, she said, so everyone could understand how much NZNO’s decision means.
It has been a long journey to reach this point, with plenty of debate and discussion along the way. So it’s fitting today to look back on how we got here, and pay tribute to the NZNO members who kept us moving forward.
It’s now over four years since the Living Wage was launched in Auckland, in May 2012. NZNO was one of the first organisations to sign up to the statement of principle:
“A living wage is the income necessary to provide workers and their families with the basic necessities of life. A living wage will enable workers to live with dignity and to participate as active citizens in society. We call upon the Government, employers and society as a whole to strive for a living wage for all households as a necessary and important step in the reduction of poverty in New Zealand.”
Our support was based on our understanding – as nurses, midwives and healthcare workers – that poverty and inequality are a root cause of much ill health. Some of us, especially those in aged care, and Māori and Pasifika members, knew this from personal experience of low pay.
Back in 2012, economists calculated that the Living Wage needed to live with dignity and participate as an active citizen in society was $18.40 an hour.
In the DHB elections the following year, NZNO asked candidates to support the idea that all DHB staff should get at least the Living Wage, which by 2013 had been recalculated as an hourly rate of $18.80.
At this time, we were coming to understand that it wasn’t enough to just agree with the Living Wage in principle. We should also contribute to the organisation which was working to make it a reality. In August 2014 NZNO took its place alongside other organisations as a full member of Living Wage Movement Aotearoa NZ Incorporated.
What propelled us along was growing support for the Living Wage among NZNO members.
Using the Nursing Matters manifesto, we’d been calling on voters and politicians from all parties in the 2014 general election to see a Living Wage for all as fundamental to a fair and healthy society.
Those of us who attended the DHB MECA endorsement meetings in late 2014 then showed our support by voting overwhelmingly for a set of claims which included progress towards the Living Wage (which by then meant at least $19.25 an hour) for HCAs.
When we couldn’t get agreement on this from employers, members expressed their frustration and reaffirmed their belief in the Living Wage at DHB MECA ratification meetings around the country.
By 2015, awareness was growing further. If we were asking our health sector employers to pay a Living Wage, then NZNO needed to walk the talk and do it, as well. That awareness culminated in a vote at last year’s NZNO AGM. Delegates from across New Zealand decided, by a large margin of 85 percent to 15 percent, to set a deadline of today - 1 July 2016 – for NZNO to become an accredited Living Wage employer.
There are also some NZNO members who deserve special mention, for helping our organisation to reach this goal.
They include people like Maire Christeller, a Primary Health Care nurse and workplace delegate, who has been involved in the Lower Hutt Living Wage Network since the beginning. She helped to spread the message to other NZNO delegates in the Hutt Valley, and has also lobbied for Hutt City Council to become a Living Wage employer.
Kathryn Fernando is a delegate at Capital & Coast DHB, who joined me on last year’s “Mop March” to Wellington City Council, aimed at extending the Living Wage to contracted council workers, like cleaners and security guards.
Litia Gibson works at Porirua Union and Community Health Service. She has led the nursing team’s support for their workplace paying the Living Wage (even if they aren’t accredited yet).
Kieran Monaghan is a Primary Health Care nurse and a leader of the Living Wage Movement in Wellington. It was his tireless efforts last year – presenting on the Living Wage at the NZNO Greater Wellington Regional Convention, getting the issue into Kai Tiaki, writing for NZNOBlog, and drafting the successful remit for the NZNO AGM setting a deadline for accreditation – which helped us take the final step.
As NZNO President, I have spoken of the need to strengthen union values within our organisation, as we continue to sharpen our professionalism – values like social justice, equity and solidarity.
By walking the talk on the Living Wage today, I believe we’re doing just that.