‘Awesome’ pay rise to $20 an hour for Hamilton City Council cleaners

Lynda Anderson, OCS.

Low wage workers who grease the wheels of local democracy have split Hamilton city councillors over a boost in their take home pay.

​Hamilton City Council awarded a cleaning services contract to OCS Limited at $10.8 million for the next five years, taking cleaning staff rates from $17.70 per hour to the council minimum of $20 per hour.

It’s amazing news for Lynda Anderson, who cleans the St Andrews and Dinsdale libraries as a second job.

“I feel like I will be able to pay my bills and live a bit easier,” she said.

 “I get paid fortnightly, pretty much [the cleaning wages don’t] even cover the rent, because my rent has just gone up as well.

“This extra bit I’m getting will be quite significant.”

Anderson, 45, also works as a support worker during the day and has four kids – three living with her, and one living with dad.

Taking them on holiday is something she hopes to do with the extra cash, and she will also be able to pay her car off earlier than she expected.

There’s also added motivation when she knows she and her colleagues have been given a higher wage, she said.

“I feel like I’m worth more.”

“It’s awesome. It’s something that I’ve been hoping would happen for years.”

OCS Australia and New Zealand managing director Gareth Marriott said cleaners are “unsung heroes”.

“Their work is often under cover of darkness. It’s hard physical work, it’s often thankless, and it’s not traditionally a highly-paid profession,” Marriott said.

The pay increase, though, almost failed to get across the line with one councillor calling the spending gratuitous.

Staff recommended a $10.5m contract. Councillors upped it to $10.8m to meet the $20 per hour rate increase and Cr Garry Mallett tried to bring it back down to $10.5m.

Mallett’s amendment failed, but only after Mayor Andrew King used his casting vote to split a six-six tie.

“They clean my floors, they empty my rubbish tin and they clean the toilet that I use,” King said. 

“We as councillors are in a position of privilege and we are probably earning, on average, about $70 an hour. But we are not in a position of privilege to take for ourselves but to clearly say that this is not good enough.”

To provide “best value” and improved services, a single contractor was procured. Previously, there were four contractors working council’s 22 buildings and 59 public toilets.

Mallett said consecutive councils are making the same mistakes – spending money and stinging ratepayers with hefty increases to cover.

“We are making the same stupid mistake over and over and over again,” Mallett said. “There is no reason to suggest the level of service we provide in our facilities will be improved at all. This is just gratuitous spending of ratepayers’ money.”

Councillors voted 7 to 5 to increase the wage rate. Cr Mark Bunting did not take the vote as he was absent during discussion.

In last year’s long term plan, council moved on the Labour-led government decision to increase the minimum wage to $20 per hour by 2021.

Cr Dave Macpherson said it brings cleaners’ wages close to the $21.15 living wage.

“When you look at what the minimum wage is, even after Monday where it went up by $1.20, it’s still pathetic.

“Most cleaners are on casual or part-time work and often have to work as cleaners at very unsatisfactory hours, late at night, by themselves and still get paid the minimum wage.”

Hamilton City Council has been challenged repeatedly on its contracts, said national director of campaigning at E Tū union Annie Newman.

And while $20 per hour is still shy of the living wage, for a cleaner it’s life changing.

“That $20, for a cleaner, is a transformative rate. It really is. They are usually just above the minimum wage but there’s a long way between that and what it costs to live a decent life,” Newman said.

Councillors voting for the wage increase were Angela O’Leary, Dave Macpherson, Paula Southgate, Siggi Henry, Martin Gallagher and Mayor Andrew King.

Geoff Taylor voted against the wage rise on the tied vote but, when that was lost, he supported the majority in the final vote.

Those against were Garry Mallett, James Casson, Leo Tooman, Rob Pascoe and Ryan Hamilton.