Tourism businesses profiting from the visitor boom need to pay up. Amanda Cropp reports.
Tourism businesses with a reputation for low wages and long hours have been put on notice to pay their staff fairly.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) has asked its 1500 members to make the commitment as part of a new sustainability push, but it stopped short of asking them to pay the living wage.
Operators who already are say it makes sense financially and it’s the right thing to do.
Heather Manawatu runs Maori Tours Kaikoura and all 15 of her casual staff are paid at least $25 an hour, well above both the minimum wage ($15.75) and the living wage ($20.20).
“I pay them that because it’s what they need to live on and it means I can sleep at night.”
Pacific Park Christian Holiday Park at Papamoa Beach introduced the living wage for its 10 staff nearly a year ago.
Manager Kerry Goodger estimates it costs about $30,000 a year and says it helps with retention. “If you want good people, you have to pay for them.
“Our staff were over the moon. One said ‘I could be down the road doing exactly the same thing for $16.50’.”
For park gardener Natasha Bonne, a single mother, the higher pay rate makes her feel appreciated. “And on the minimum wage, I’d have to spend all my spare time working just to make ends meet.”
Rachel Brown of the Sustainable Business Network says tourism wants public support and local communities notice when operators doing well out of the visitor boom pay badly.
Poor pay also has the potential to damage the industry’s reputation further afield.
Young travelers wotravelersaiheke Island have told Brown they feel ripped off by low pay and zero-hour contracts that send them home on slow days.
“When they compare the wages in different parts of the world, New Zealand doesn’t rate well; they’re saying if you are in Australia you are getting better [pay], in Poland it’s better.”
TIA chief executive Chris Roberts says there has been considerable debate about whether to include a living wage pledge in the sustainability project, and in the end it was decided it would be a step too far.
He is hopeful that the association’s 1500 members will move in that direction over the next few years. Of 339 who responded to a survey on the issue, 40 per cent said they were already paying at least the living wage to all staff.
That is set to include Ngāi Tahu Tourism, which is looking at how to handle a living wage policy decision from Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.
Despite a $13.28m net profit last year, Kaiwhakahaere Lisa Tumaha i says a living wage would be a major challenge for its 11 tourism businesses which employ up to 500 people, and she acknowledges the business could not enforce the increase in partnership ventures such as Go Bus.
The accommodation sector is also nervous.
“I would rather incentivise them in that way, as opposed to handing it out.”
He says that chances are there will be a flow on effect that significantly raises the entire wage bill, with a consequent impact on profitability.
“What really worries me is that every single employee [on] above $20 [an hour] will want a wage increase as well.”
In the backpacker market, margins are tight, and some hostels have had to take on more staff following a Labour inspectorate crackdown on the practice of using unpaid labour in return for free accommodation.
He says YHA pays above minimum wage, and although it supports the concept of the living wage, it is not sustainable at present.
“We’ll be looking at a strategy to achieve that over time, but I stress the over time bit.”
A move to the living wage may also be problematic for the country’s 30 regional tourism organisations (RTOs), which employ about 240 staff.
RTO chair Graham Budd says most would be heavily reliant on a boost in funding from local councils to meet any increased costs.