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September 18, 2017 | by  | in News Splash |
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A Fairer Aotearoa

Workers who clean Parliament have described struggling and feeling undervalued.

On August 30 the Living Wage Movement hosted A Fairer Aotearoa forum at St Peter’s on Willis church to draw attention to the low wages that essential members of the public service are employed on.

Ashley Barber spoke at the event and told her story of moving to Wellington and getting work with a cleaning company contracted by Parliamentary Services.

“We start at midnight and knock off at 6.00am. We do kitchens, emptying the bins, and vacuuming. I’ve been in the orchards, dairy farms, and factories, but this is the hardest job I’ve had. And the pay’s the lowest.”

“And unless you do it you don’t ever know.”

Mareta Sinoti, who worked as a cleaner at Parliament for five years and now works at the National Library, also started at midnight and finished at 6.00am.

“Getting by on a cleaner’s wage is too hard. It means constant worries about transport — will the car go to get to work at midnight? Have I got money on my phone to ring the boss if I break down, and to keep in touch with my family?”

“My boys are older now and they’ve started working. But the years when they were growing up were tough. […] I felt constant pressure to work so we could afford the things that kids need to get on and do well.”

Parliamentary Services functions “to provide administrative and support services to the House of Representatives and to members of Parliament” but “is not an instrument of the executive government.”

When asked the rationale behind the wages of the cleaners, General Manager David Stevenson said “the Parliamentary Service contracts cleaning services from Spotless, so your questions are best directed to them as the cleaners’ employer.”

Spotless was unable to be contacted.

A Fairer Aotearoa was also attended by representatives of the major political parties who signed pledges that if elected they would “support and promote the Living Wage being implemented for all those employed in the core public service within 12 months of the new government being formed” and “support and promote changing government procurement policies to ensure that all contracted workers, who are delivering a regular and ongoing service to the core public service, move to the Living Wage within the next term of government.”

Deputy leader of the Labour Party Kelvin Davis, Green Party MP Jan Logie, NZ First MP  Tracey Martin, and Māori Party candidate Mei Reedy-Taare signed the pledges on behalf of their parties.

Event organisers said the National Party was invited, but a representative failed to attend.

A National Party spokesperson said “National was approached but unfortunately all of our Wellington region candidates had existing commitments that night.”

“National candidates have participated in other Living Wage events around NZ.”

When asked whether the National Party would be willing to sign the pledge, the spokesperson said “National support ongoing increases to the minimum wage, which we’ve raised from $12 an hour in 2008 to $15.75 in 2016/17. We’ll continue to increase it each year.”

Lyndy McIntyre, Wellington organiser for the Living Wage Movement, said “the National Party only came to one forum, out of four, and at that forum in Hamilton they opposed the Living Wage.”

“We made it very clear to them that we wanted a representative from the National Party who didn’t need to come from Wellington.”

She said of the candidates who attended, “the good news is they all committed and signed a form recording the commitment. That means if we get a change of government we have had a very big win in the core public service for the Living Wage.”

Mareta Sinoti said she felt a little nervous speaking at the event, but good about how it had gone.

“The important thing for us is we’ve fought for the living wage too many times but it has never happened.”

“I’ve been going everywhere for the Living Wage — Porirua, the City Council, rallies, facing parliament. Some people ask why are you going? It’s not for my goodness; it’s for all of them.”

“We deserve it. It’s been a long time.”

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