Hey Mojo, if you can’t pay your staff properly maybe you shouldn’t be in business

Wellington-based coffee chain Mojo has announced it is upping its prices in response to the increase in the minimum wage. Fine, says Emily Writes, but I won’t be buying your coffee again.

My love of coffee is known, and while it doesn’t reach the levels of “has Google alert for Wellington and Coffee” it does mean a headline like “coffee prices rise with minimum wage increase” is going to catch my eye.

I immediately wanted to know what the story was. It wasn’t that surprising to read that no, coffee prices aren’t rising. Coffee prices almost everywhere are staying the same – except at Wellington institution Mojo. A fairer headline would be “Mojo raising coffee prices” because that’s what they’re doing. They’re choosing to increase the price of their product, which of course they’re welcome to do.

But it’s interesting that they thought Wellingtonians would just leap in behind this, when much smaller coffee shops, which don’t have anything near the traffic or platform that Mojo has, are paying their baristas a living wage and have been for some time. All without charging more for their product.

It almost seems like it comes down to whether you value your staff or not. One of the main reasons I haven’t started a business myself is that I know I’ll likely not earn enough to be able to pay the people I need to do the job I need them to do. That’s because while I think the service I’ll provide is a good one, it’s likely not good enough to earn enough to pay any employees I have enough.

So I’m thoroughly confused by employers who insist that no business model can ever support paying living wages – especially since many, many, many businesses do pay their employees living wages.

Could it be – and now, I don’t want to be inflammatory – but could it be that you’re just shit at business if you can’t even pay your staff properly and you think that’s acceptable?

Now, now, calm your tits. I know that the first response I’m going to get is “I pay people before I pay myself!” and guess what Russ? That’s what being in business is. Eat it. When the rewards are high, you reap them – because you’ve put in the hard yards. And when it’s rough, you ride that, because you hold that risk. Risk and reward. If you can’t handle it, don’t do it.

I was at a Women in Business conference on the weekend (I was the entertainment not an expert or mentor, so chill out) and I was astonished to hear one of the women talk about how she chose to put her business on hold because she couldn’t afford to pay her freelancers.

As a freelancer for three years, my first thought was “you paid your freelancers” because fuck me it’s hard getting paid (I could insert an anecdote about a huge media organisation not paying me for so long I almost had to take them to Baycorp and in the end only paid me when I said I’d go public – months after the due date). But my second thought was – wow, this is integrity in business.

Now, she could have had a hissy I suppose and charged extra for her product and had a moan about how people earning just $16.50 is just too taxing for an organisation with 31 stores and an almost complete monopoly on their market (desperate public servants in need of caffeine). That was one option. But she chose to stop instead. She chose to work out whether her product could earn more, so she could pay her people properly.

Integrity.

Ultimately, Mojo can charge whatever they like for their coffee. But I won’t be buying it (and I was a consumer of at least three Mojo coffees a week). It’s not because I can’t afford the price hike – it’s because I can’t support a business that gasps at people earning just $16.50 an hour.

So I will be putting my money where my mouth is. Businesses that are upset that they can’t build their careers at the expense of the people who grind in their cafes and restaurants and bars are not businesses that I want to support. If you can’t create a business and also ensure your workers earn just enough to put a roof over their head and have a meagre dinner on the table (literally, $16.50 an hour is what we are talking about) then what kind of business are you?

The minimum wage increase is about survival. Coffee is a luxury that people on minimum wage can’t afford. And they’re so often the ones making it. So it’s astonishing that they’re being left out of this debate. And if Mojo says that this is about increasing wages further up the chain – well fine, but to blame a minimum wage increase because it’s forcing you to recognise the talents of the crew that makes people buy your product in the first place? That’s just foolish.

And you need to be smarter than that surely if you’re running a business? If it’s about the cost of one cup of coffee, say that: Put the details out there. Tell us what the cup costs and the beans and the rent on your premises. But don’t expect us to swallow that it’s the fault of your employees or the fault of a government that recognises that people who work 40 hours a week should be able to afford to pay for a basic life.

Call me a pinko socialist tree hugger greenie scumbag – but I’m buying your product. Or should I say – not buying it. And your latest stunt has backfired, at least in the circles I’m in, as we all seek out coffee from companies that demonstrate that they actually care about their people.

What the worth of a coffee is – well, that’s hard to quantify. But I know what people are worth, and it’s a shitload more than $16.50.


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