It’s a good Living (Wage) if you can get it!
Sometime the difference between one’s performance life, and ‘grown-up/professional’ life blur. Often our songs look to stories and anecdotes that we feel belong in contemporary culture. Tales of protest and subversion, important actions rendered invisible because they challenge dominant narratives, and individual characters who have stood up and totally been themselves – warts and all, full of opinion, opposition and determination to confront power by the means at their disposal(…and sometimes our songs are just nonsense). Our songs also look at the opposite: the inequalities, the inequities and injustices that burden ordinary life in this neo-liberal capitalist environment.Happy times.
Looking for problems is easy, we can condemn, damn and rail with our eyes shut in the dark. It takes an effort to stick your cynicism in a sack and drown it in the river (I remember being particularly moved by the small pamphlet Thesis Against Cynicism – worth hunting out) . It takes an effort to commit, to participate and advocate for something better/different/more humane. Now finding solutions, even a hint of a possible solution…that takes work!
It seems like an ordinary thing to be an active participant, I’d suggest the ‘Think Global, Act Local’ remains a vital maxim to apply to one’s political activity – work for making a better Big Picture, but work where you can, with the resources at your disposal, and on the things that you know.
Today (Tuesday May 5), I presented a oral submission to the Wellington City Council about the further implementation of the Living Wage to contracted employees of the local council. This submission been worked on and hammered out at home. The topics of inequalities, equability and accessibility and frequent conversation starters here, they are often the guts of our creative work, but also a significant driving force in the motivation for our participation in our paid employment as well.
What is the Living Wage? It is a grass-root’s civic-led movement asserting that a decent living wage needs to be paid for a day’s labour. A wage then ensures a life beyond poverty, a life of potential and participation. Not a minimum wage that benefits the employer by paying as little as possible to the worker, while making the greatest profit possible and damn the social cost. The Living Wage movement is affiliated to NO political party, and proactively organises amongst community, union and faith communities – with a equal balance of representation between the three to assert social change away from inequalities.
Personally, it seems like an achievable campaign, growing a broad-based coalition of diverse groups with a shared affinity to reduce poverty. It’s also a campaign we support.
I am employed a Primary Health Care nurse in a local Youth health clinic. I have been working in Primary care since 2006 – specifically in Very Low Cost Access health centres in the Wellington Southern suburbs, providing care to communities with some of the highest mental, physical and social health needs, and some of the more vulnerable health situations in this city.
I am speaking today to advocate for the inclusion, and implementation of, the Living Wage for all additional workers who are employed by Wellington City council-controled organisations and other contracted workers. It is excellent that already 500 employees now live on the 2014 Living Wage rate. The reported impact of this decisive action to implement the Living Wage to these employees has been a greater ability to access the services and delights of this city, to attend higher education, to be at home being a parent rather than needing a second or third job, and to be able to participate – and be a participant, in the civic life of Wellington city. Now is the time for the Wellington City Council (WCC) to implement the next step and become the first fully-realised Living Wage Council in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Since the last submission process for strategic planning, there has been a global surge in civic movements looking for alternatives, other options, to stem the growing inequalities. For example, last week in The New Statesman, a UK-based political commentary magazine, in a article titled Forget healthcare: the trick to making people well is to make them more equal, it stated that “…policymakers… need to address the problem at its root by acknowledging that income inequality is a major cause of health inequality, [and] not just an indicator.” Paying he Living Wage is a part of this solution, a tangible and practical tactic to address the growing social burdens that affect us all through the widening inequitious divide.
From a nursing perspective it is almost not contested that inequalities are a major player in the determinants of health – it’s the solutions that are quibbled over. It is widely recognised that inequalities are significant determinants of:
- poorer mental health and wellbeing
- greater use of alcohol and drugs
- more likely to come in contact with the judicial system
- more likely to leave school without adequate education for exciting employment options
- greater teen pregnancy rates
- at greater risk of exposure to violence- random and domestic
- poorer long-term physical health outcomes across the life span -from childhood asthma, rheumatic fever, eczema to diabetes and cardiac disease in later life
- Premature death
The research is clear, these inequalities do not affect only the individual, but society as a whole does less well. We all benefit when we are all better off. Reducing Inequalities is a ‘Major Project’ that requires a long view. For those on the lowest wages in the WCC structure, the gains will be immediate, the ripples with then continue out.
In my time working as a Primary Care Nurse, I have met many good hard working people, good people working too hard to make ends meet – needing second or third jobs to pay the bills. And then they don’t arrive in clinic for a minor health check because amongst the ranges of poverty they are also so time poor that it’s impossible to manage self-care alongside the other necessities that needs addressing. Sometimes, on a hard day, I can match these lives to the gloomy research, and it doesn’t end well, and it’s tragic. And for the most part this tragedy is completely avoidable. We are world leaders in this downwards spiral, we are among the most inequitious societies. When we spend time negotiating over about the incremental changes of minimum wage, we need to know that we are implementing poverty- it’s that clear. And regardless of the rhetoric, when you’re poor, for the most-part working hard does not pay off. The “coolest little Capital” is becoming a city where the working poor are becoming reliant of Food Banks and emergency accommodation.
From a Youth perspective, because that is the area I am now working in, I have had a number of conversations with patients where the decision are made to choose sex-work over other employment options, the simple fact is the money is better. The needs of Youth are not less because they are young: food, rent, essentials are not offered at a cheaper rate because you are young. The bills still have to be paid. Is this what we encourage by holding tight to supporting paying poverty wages? What is the message we send to our next generations? How do we let them know they are valuable and valued?
However, at this moment we have an opportunity to not continue in that direction. Here is a line in the sand. This is our You-Shall-Not-Pass moment where the WCC can banish poverty from it own employment structure. It will be a day worthy of celebration when this city can claim to be the first to say, actually, we can do better that this, and this is how we prove it.