Matt Wilson and Freya Atkinson have been paying all its staff at Good Fortune Coffee the living wage since it started in 2016 (goodfortunecoffee.co.nz)

Five small businesses explain how and why they pay their staff a living wage

A handful of employers in the retail, hospitality, food manufacturing and events industry have gone above and beyond the minimum wage requirement by paying all their staff at least $20.55 per hour – in line with the official living wage for 2018. Here, they explain why they believe paying staff properly is important and how it’s factored into the way their business works.

The bike shop

Situated in the heart of Wellington, Bicycle Junction is the city’s urban specialist bike shop. It sells, fixes and builds bicycles with the aim of encouraging as many Wellingtonians to get out and ride not just for transport, but for enjoyment as well. Its store on Marion Street is clean and spacious, with an in-house cafe serving hot coffee to boot.

Bicycle Junction owner Dan Mikkelsen says his business officially became an accredited employer with Living Wage Aotearoa about three years ago, but it had already been paying the living wage for close to two years before joining the organisation. When it comes whether he had to make significant changes to his business in order to pay staff the living wage, he says that while there’s no question Bicycle Junction’s wage bill is higher than other retailers out there, he says it’s always been part of the company’s business model.

“What you put into your staff will be returned. People should be able to earn enough on a 40 hour week that they can feel relaxed and be raring go with focus and engagement,” he says. “They shouldn’t need to fret over rent payments or work two jobs just to make ends meets. I believe the decision to pay a living wage has enabled me to attract the most talented staff.”

“It’s the right thing to do, so that’s why we do it.”

“People should be able to earn enough on a 40 hour week that they can feel relaxed and be raring go” (bicyclejunction.co.nz)

The coffee roasters

Good Fortune Coffee prides itself on being fair trade and organic. But the Petone coffee roaster has also been an accredited living wage employer since it started back in 2016. It was the first (and still only) coffee roaster to receive the accreditation.

Good Fortune’s Matt Wilson says that having been to several coffee growing regions and seen what a huge difference Fairtrade coffee can make to families and communities, he sees parallels between the Fairtrade movement overseas and the living wage movement here – emphasising that it’s important for his business to be paying his “most valuable asset” a wage that they can decently live on.

When it comes to running a business, Wilson says he takes a more philosophical approach to things, keeping in mind that profit is only one aspect of running a business. “Wages are one the biggest bills in hospitality making up about 33% of total turnover, so paying the living wage does have an impact on this obviously,” he notes. “However, as the saying goes, if you pay peanuts you get monkeys, and paying staff a living wage makes for a happier, healthier, more productive workplace. You’ll attract better quality staff and more importantly, retain them. Workers will work harder and respect their jobs, so the small increase in wages I believe will be offset by better productivity and a happier workplace.”

Along with Good Fortune Coffee, Wilson and his business partner, Freya Atkinson, also own a cafe called The Seashore Cabaret which is set to start offering the living wage to staff very soon. “We set a goal of becoming a living wage employer within three years of being in business. This will become a reality this financial year which has been a huge focus for us since we opened (and we won’t be putting up our coffee prices to pay for it).”

“If you pay peanuts you get monkeys” (goodfortunecoffee.co.nz)

While eighthirty aren’t officially accredited by Living Wage Aotearoa, the Auckland-based coffee connoisseurs have recently raised its starting rate for baristas to $20.55 to be in line with the living wage recommendation for 2018 (its previous starting rate was $20 an hour).

“The four owners of eighthirty have all spent substantial amounts of time as baristas and having previously been paid pretty low rates, it was a conscious decision to try and create a business that could value that skill appropriately,” says eighthirty’s Christy Tennent and Glenn Bell. “It’s difficult for us to be able to pay all our staff a living wage, but we don’t want to run a business without doing this. For us, it’s about financially recognising the value of our staff.”

Both Tennent and Bell acknowledge that with margins so tight in an industry with high overheads and high wage costs, paying the living wage isn’t always possible for most in the hospitality business. For eighthirty, its ability to pay higher wages has mostly come down to its choice of business model. “We choose to not really run kitchens [and instead] lease smaller spaces and focus on coffee. We don’t operate full-service cafes – just espresso bars which don’t require lots of staff. Typically our stores have two or three staff at any one time so it’s a lot more feasible to pay the living wage than say a cafe running six to ten staff.”

“I think we’re seeing hospo go through a few changes presently due to these struggles. The rise of the all-day eatery in large format spaces, shrinking of menus and compact cafes in other spots.”

“It’s difficult for us to be able to pay all our staff a living wage, but we don’t want to run a business without doing this” (eighthirty.com)

The peanut butter makers

Four years ago, Roman and Andrea Jewell started their peanut butter company Fix and Fogg when they were expecting their first child. They started selling homemade peanut butter at a local farmers’ market, using a vibrating exercise machine for toning thighs to shake air bubbles out of its spreads. Fast forward to today and Fix and Fogg peanut butter is now stocked widely across New Zealand. More recently, it’s started selling across the Tasman too.

With a big emphasis on community and sustainability through its charity work and glass jar return system, Fix and Fogg says that implementing the living wage was “the logical and important thing to do”.

“It was a big decision to implement the living wage in August last year,” says marketing manager Laura Bedwell. “Margins in food manufacturing are very small, but it was something that we had wanted to do for a long time. We’ve got an informal saying in Fix and Fogg that happy people make better tasting peanut butter.”

Andrea and Roman Jewell of Fix and Fogg have been paying their staff the living wage since August last year (supplied)

The production company

From the Night Noodle Markets in Auckland to Christchurch’s Electric Avenue music festival, Theme Productions is one of the most prominent event designers in New Zealand. As a total production company, Theme figures out almost everything when it comes to designing the event: the layout of a room, the activation of a space, and any furniture or decor the occasion calls for.

In an industry that uses a lot of contract labour due to the varying size and frequency of events, Theme Productions says it’s committed to offering its staff considerably more than the living wage with its starting rate currently at $25 per hour.  

“This makes it more lucrative for the contractor to be available for us as sometimes this can just be a four-hour call,” says Chris Stead, owner of the Christchurch-based production company. “We offer this rate so that we can attract the best contractors to work for us.In addition, and perhaps above all, I offer the living wage because I have a social conscience. My staff (and contractors) are the face of my business and if they’re happy and feeling worthy then they’re more likely to go the extra mile. “Simply put, if I’m doing well, I want my staff to be doing well too.”

A Theme Productions showroom for Audi (themepro.co.nz)


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