Prime Minister Christopher Luxon vague on if living wage for Government workers will continue

  • 02/04/2024

The living wage has gone up by $1.80 – but Government workers, like cleaners and security guards, are still unclear on if they will get the boost. 

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon told AM he'll commit to keeping the living wage for Government workers "in this case", but admitted he hadn't had the conversation about continuing it long term.

Luxon said instead his focus was on minimum wage.

While the living wage increase is being welcomed by those struggling with the cost of living, not everyone has received the boost – thousands of workers still only get the minimum wage of $23.15 an hour.

"New Zealand is in quite a unique position because our minimum wage is very close to our median wage, which is probably one of the highest in the OECD countries," Luxon said, adding that the April 1 rise was "just a consistent, regular increase".

However, Luxon said it was about getting "the balance right".

"What you have to acknowledge is, over the period of the previous Labour Government, you know, actually the minimum wage went up twice as much as inflation and so we're trying to find that balance of making sure we lift wages but, also, when we've got rising unemployment, that we've got the settings right so that employers will actually take on workers as well.

"The real question and the real answer is to actually grow the economy so that wages are actually going up and up. What you don't want to do is be loading up huge costs onto businesses - or small businesses in particular.

"At the moment, that's why we're focused on rebuilding the economy because a lot of those business owners don't feel like they want to invest because they haven't got certainty about what's happening - they've got a lot of costs and red tape and rules that are being thrown at them."

Wellington-based contract cleaner Mele Peaua understands the difference between living wage and minimum wage - she works two jobs, one of which is with Government department Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the other is minimum wage.

She told AM that getting the living wage on her Government role was "a big gap" from minimum wage when it comes to helping her family, including being able to have a holiday after working for over two decades.

"On 20 plus years of working as a cleaner and I can't afford to go for a holiday because of the living costs and I'm so stressful to saving some money on minimum wages rate, but when I have the living wages it's a big relief for me and I'm so happy," Peaua said.

"[I] look forward every day to go to work because I look forward for the extra money I have on my pay cheque for the cost of living. 

"I think it's less stress, more happy, my family – more happy in my home."

However, Peaua said her other non-Government job on minimum wage remains a stress.

If people were paid better, she said it would be a "blessing", not just for individuals but families and communities.

"We will have a happy country in here."