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Government playing 'a lot of catch up' to lift workers' pay to living wage - Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government is playing "a lot of catch up" in lifting workers' wages, but that it's in negotiations on a case-by-case basis to bring people's pay up to the living wage.

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The Prime Minister responded to criticism from contracted cleaning and security workers who are still below living wage. Source: 1 NEWS

Workers and unions are calling on the Government to step up and honour its 2017 promise of a living wage for them.

This morning, Ms Ardern told TVNZ1's Breakfast the Government had lifted wages to the living wage for core Government employees.

"The ones that we employ, we have," she said. "What you're raising, and rightly so I should add, is the issue of when people are contracted.

"So that does mean we have a group of individuals who are contracted by the Government or Government agencies. So, for instance, MSD (Ministry of Social Development) security guard workforce who stand outside MSD offices to protect MSD workers where that's needed, or in places where people will be contracting for cleaning services - there are in some cases there issues being raised about individuals not earning the living wage."

Breakfast host Anna Burns-Francis said for those workers on contracts, some who've been in their roles for years, it means no difference.

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Rose Kavapalu works 65 hours a week at two jobs and still struggles to make ends meet. Source: 1 NEWS

Auckland cleaner Rose Kavapalu was on Breakfast earlier this morning. She works 65 hours a week cleaning at a police station and school, but she cannot afford to both feed her family and pay rent so she's moved back into her parents' home.

"For those like Rose you're talking about, yes, they are being contracted and so what we've changed for those we've employed hasn't affected Rose," Ms Ardern said.

"We are dealing with those as they start to come through for negotiation on a case-by-case basis. In the meantime, keeping in mind that I imagine Rose, I hope would've been positively affected by the fact that we have had some of the biggest increases in minimum wage that you will have seen in a very very long time. That doesn't mean the job's done."

However, Burns-Francis said since Ms Kavapalu is living with her parents, it appears the increases hadn't positively affected Rose. She also said for someone like Ms Kavapalu, the difference between minimum wage and living wage is just over $200 a week.

"The minimum wage is a floor- it's the minimum amount people should be earning - then we've moved to see the living wage implemented for people that we are directly responsible for and now we're trying to work through those who are contracted," Ms Ardern responded.

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Fala Haulangi joined Breakfast to discuss the hardship many Kiwis face working multiple jobs to get by. Source: Breakfast

"Of course, we do want to see people on wages that mean that they can survive and have a decent life."

Ms Ardern also said the Government had been moving to support the lowest paid workers in education and health.

"Some of the pay and wage increases that we've been rolling out as a Government have been some of the most substantial that you would have seen in a decade and so this is a rolling agenda of work.

"We're having to do a lot of catch up because of the low wages that existed when we arrived. We are doing that alongside those wage increases, but as I say, some of them we are having to deal with as they come up for negotiation."

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First Union is also calling for retailers to give workers enough hours to live on. Source: 1 NEWS

When asked if those negotiations would be done before the September election, Ms Ardern said she couldn't speak to any specific contracts without having the details at hand.

But she added that contracts with MSD were being worked through now.

"Those negotiations I need to continue to let play out, but when it comes to the need to lift incomes I'd like to think you'd have seen as a Government we have prioritised that."

Watch the fill interview with the Prime Minister below.

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he Prime Minister also responded to criticism over contracted Government workers not being paid the living wage. Source: 1 NEWS