13 February 2012

Local Councils and their Pay Rates - what might Jesus say?

by Dr Mark Keown

What is going on in NZ Local Councils? First, according to reports, the Christchurch Council award CEO Tony Maryatt a $68,000 pay rise (14%) taking his annual income to just over half a million dollars per year. While he turned it down, the damage was done with a strong reaction from the people including recent protests. Now we have the Kapiti Council giving an 18% pay rise of $44,000 to CEO Pat Dougherty. This is setting off a similar strong reaction from the people of Kapiti. After the pay rise, this took Dougherty’s salary to a tidy 285,000, nice! Mind you, if I were Pat I might be querying why I don’t get as much as Tony? Poor Pat?

It is interesting to compare his income with other Kiwi incomes. With the new minimum wage rates, someone on the entrants (16-17) minimum wage working a forty hour week earns around $22,464 yielding an after tax income of $19,512.80. Someone on the adult minimum wage earns $28,080 which after tax comes out at around $24,146. This means the CEO increases amount to twice to three times that of those in these cities working on the minimum wage. Indeed, the average median salary for such roles in the national public sector is around $410,000 with CEO’s getting around $425,000 – man I am in the wrong business!

In 2011/12 the average annual income was $57,600, around $500 per week. The average for those in skilled occupations with ten years’ experience was $70,000. So, the increases in mind are around the total incomes of the average New Zealander, even those with experience.

This means that these councils are awarding their CEO’s salaries some 10+ times the incomes of those in their cities on the minimum wage, and 5-10 times the average income. The increases themselves are above what many in their cities earn in a year.

Now all this is happening at a time when we continue to live in the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). Few if any people in the NZ workforce are seeing anything like an 11-14% increase in wages. Indeed, there are wharfies in Auckland who have been seeking a 2.5% increase in wages on a basic income of $57,000 and facing being turned into contractors.

Such raises of course are justified by saying that this is deserved for their tough roles. Well, is this really the case? Are they as tough as an ambulance driver, a surf life saver, a policeman, a fireman, a school teacher, a factory-worker, a wharfie?

And of course, who is paying? We, the ratepayers of our fair cities are. So, for most of us, all these wage hikes mean is rate increases! Is that what our rates should go to?

I wonder what Jesus might think about all this? First, I suspect he would not have a problem with people working hard for a good living, and being paid fairly and well. Many of Jesus’ parables related to people working in farms, etc. Paul in his letters endorsed believers working with their own hands to make a decent living (Eph 4:28; 1 Thess 4:11).

Secondly, Jesus would challenge those on high incomes to assess how they are earning their money, is it earned justly and ethically. At this point I suspect these Councils would come under some critique from Jesus. What justifies such disparity and the awarding of such increases at a time like this? I suspect, he would have some choice words such as in Matthew 23 or Luke 10 to bring to the party.

Thirdly, I know that Jesus would urge anyone, and especially those on high incomes, to be radically generous to those in need with what they are earning. I suppose that is up to those on such incomes, and we will never know.

Finally, I think he would have some serious things to say to these councils. I wonder if he would say, ‘what the heck are you doing, you cannot serve both God and money?’ After all, as Paul tells us in Romans 13, those in public office are God’s servants! He might go on, ‘At a time when there are more and more people struggling to make ends meet, why are you who have been granted the privilege of looking after others, abusing this power for monetary gain? What justifies you taking ten times more than the people under your care?’

To put it bluntly, this is oppression, and the prophets and Jesus hated oppression. It sounds to me a lot like the days of the Lord of the Manor and the Serfs! – I thought western ‘civilisation’ had moved on.

Sounds like it is time for a clean out of the system. Perhaps those who serve on the councils should have their incomes set against the national income – say two times the national income might be fair? – at the most! If people aren’t prepared to serve for that, then get someone who will – can they do a worse job?

I hear there was a day when people served in such public offices for nothing and saw it as a privilege to serve others. They didn’t need big salaries to want to serve the common good. Those days are long gone. All power to those who are protesting, give it to them NZ! May the churches voice be clearly heard in the crowd.

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