The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) has called for the minimum wage to match the living wage, saying no one who works full-time should have to struggle to make ends meet.
From Thursday the minimum wage will be $20 an hour, Labour fulfilling a promise it made in the 2017 election campaign. It's gone up 27 percent since then, the latest boost adding another $44 a week (before tax) for those working full-time.
CTU secretary Melissa Ansell-Bridges told The AM Show on Thursday they deserve every dollar, dismissing predictions businesses will lay off staff.
"Every year when the minimum wage goes up you hear that opinion that jobs are going to be lost... we never actually see those losses.
"What COVID has shown us is that the work of a lot of minimum wage workers - people in supermarkets, cleaners - have actually been fundamental. It's been the backbone for our recovery and our survival as a society throughout those lockdowns and since that period as well. Those people are generally on minimum wage and they absolutely deserve this raise."
Business groups and the National Party called for this year's hike to be scrapped or delayed - something that hasn't happened since the late 1990s.
"We've been in an extremely fortunate position of having ongoing economic growth which has enabled us to continue to pay increases to the minimum wage," said Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope, appearing with Ansell-Bridges on The AM Show. "That's not necessarily a given as we recover from COVID and as the globe recovers from the pandemic."
Ansell-Bridges said there was no reason to delay the increase.
"Why should they have to wait longer, quite frankly? They deserve these raises and they deserve them sooner."
More than 240 employers nationwide are part of the Living Wage campaign - pledging to pay at least $22.10 an hour, "the income necessary to provide workers and their families with the basic necessities of life... live with dignity and to participate as active citizens in society", according to the campaign's website.
That figure is about to increase, with the new living wage to be announced at 1pm on Thursday.
Ansell-Bridges says it's time to think about pushing the minimum wage up faster so it can match the living wage.
"The reality for people on the minimum wage is that even with this increase, they are still on the breadline. We need to continue having that conversation."
The minimum wage has gone up every year this century to date - quicker under Labour, slower under National. Unemployment trended downwards under both the previous Labour-led Government under Helen Clark and the John Key/Bill English-led National years, aside from a sharp increase as the global financial crisis (GFC) hit at the end of Clark's time.
Unemployment thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic so far has peaked at 5.3 percent in late 2020, well below the peaks seen in the GFC or in the 1990s.
"One of the good things about increasing the minimum wage is that people on lower incomes, if they have an increase like this - if you're working full-time $44 a week before tax - that's money that's immediately circulated back into the economy," said Ansell-Bridges.
Hope pointed to surveys of employers which found many are "under extreme amounts of stress" and their businesses on the "verge of collapse".