Coronavirus: Green Party proposes package to pay essential workers 'dignified wage'

Marama Davidson.
Marama Davidson. Photo credit: Newshub Nation.

The Green Party is proposing a package it says would ensure essential workers are "paid a dignified wage so they do not live in poverty".

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on many of New Zealand's essential workers, including supermarket employees, rest-home caregivers and people who transport our goods around the country. 

While many Kiwis have been instructed to stay at home during lockdown to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2, these workers have been on the frontline "risking their own health" to support New Zealand, Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said on Wednesday.

"The Green Party believes these heroes deserve to earn enough to live on and is proposing a series of changes to bring essential workers’ pay up to a dignified wage," she said. 

"Low-wage essential workers are getting New Zealand through this crisis and continue to do so. They went to work when the rest of us were told to stay away - and people would be horrified to hear many of them barely earn enough to live on."

The package, revealed by Davidson alongside the party's workplace relations spokesperson Jan Logie, includes three main steps the Greens believe would bring essential workers' pay up to a wage "that reflects the work they do".

The first idea is for the Government to introduce legislation enabling fair pay agreements for essential workers in the likes of retail, cleaning, security and transport in the private sector. 

These agreements would set out occupation and sector-specific minimum employment standards, such as for wages, redundancies and overtime, and would be negotiated through bargaining between workers and employers. Once decided, they would become legal requirements for the sector.

While the party says core public service employees have earned a living wage since 2018, that doesn't extend to Kiwis employed by Crown entities, or people whose work is contracted or otherwise funded by the Government, but are employed by private groups. 

It would make provisions to increase the pay of the lowest-paid public sector workers, including those with jobs funded by the public sector, to ensure "everyone is on a living wage".

“The Government should ensure all people working in the broader public sector are paid a decent wage, including contractors, people working for Crown entities, and people working for Government-funded community organisations," Logie said.

Finally, the party also wants a "hospitality sector working group" established immediately that would bring employers, unions and Government together to "get the industry on a more sustainable footing going forward".

"The Government has the legislative tools to bring all essential workers up to the living wage. These unsung heroes have made their worth abundantly clear. It’s time to pay them fairly," Logie said.