By: Simon Collins

Auckland’s Western Springs College has become the country’s first high school to adopt the living wage.

The liberal inner-city school will pay the living wage of $20.55 an hour from next January to 19 teacher aides, cleaners and other staff who now earn less than that, costing the school an extra $50,000 a year.

School principal Ivan Davis announced the board of trustees’ decision during a visit to the school today by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

He also gave Ardern, the local MP for Mt Albert, a gift for her first child due in mid-June.

“Springs is a school that has always had a strong commitment to social justice, with their mission statement aiming to equip their students to share in the building of a just and sustainable society,” he said.

“In making the commitment to prioritise the payment of a living wage to all staff members, the school board is ensuring that they are being true to their mission.

“Every year we have discussed this when setting the budget for the following year. This year, we unanimously decided that we must do the right thing for all our employees.”

The move comes as the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) holds meetings around the country, ending next week, on claims for a pay increase for teachers expected to be up to 14.5 per cent.

PPTA vice-president Melanie Webber is a staff representative on the Western Springs board of trustees, which governs both the English-speaking college and a Māori bilingual school which shares the campus, Ngā Puna o Waiōrea.

Porirua primary school Corinna School is the only other school listed as a living wage employer.

Lynda Stuart of the NZ Educational Institute, which represents teacher aides and other school support staff, said many teacher aides worked on the statutory minimum wage, which went up from $15.75 to $16.50 from April 1.

The institute has lodged pay equity claims for teacher aides and education support workers, arguing that they are underpaid because they are mostly female.

Care workers won a historic $2 billion pay equity case last year which raised workers on the minimum wage to $19 an hour from last July for those with less than three years’ service and up to $23.50 an hour for at least 12 years’ experience.

“We would love to see all of our schools and early childhood services being able to be living wage employers,” Stuart said.

“I congratulate Western Springs College on a move forwards that I know that, for many of our schools and centres, that is absolutely something that they would like to be able to do, but at the moment, with the current funding the way that it is, is currently not a possibility for all of our learning environments simply because of the needs that they have for their children.”

Davis said Western Springs had an operational budget of $13.1 million and adopting the living wage would cost 0.38 per cent of that budget.

The living wage has been calculated by unions and community groups as the hourly wage a worker needs to pay for the necessities of life and participate as an active citizen in the community.

Source: NZ Herald

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