Frontline staff playing an integral role in keeping the country safe from the spread of Covid-19 are being paid the bare minimum in wages.
E tū union organiser Mat Danaher told the Herald yesterday that while the Government had made a commitment to ensure security staff are paid a living wage, the same had not yet been afforded to cleaning staff.
This leaves many cleaners on the minimum wage of $18 per hour, despite the enormous risk they take every time they enter MIQ to do their jobs.
The Herald has approached the Government department responsible for managed isolation and quarantine for comment.
Studies have shown that the Covid-19 virus can remain viable for 24 to 72 hours depending on the surface it occupies.
Without the effort of these cleaners, anyone who entered these rooms would be at risk of being infected by the disease.
The important role of cleaning staff has been recognised in the Government's commitment to putting them at the front of the queue – alongside nurses, security staff, customs and border officials, airline staff and hotel workers – for the rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
Surely, the same level of respect could be reflected in the wages these individuals are being paid for what amounts to highly risky work.
This issue is further exacerbated by the fact that many members of the cleaning staff around the country identify as Māori and Pasifika – groups that have been identified as being at high risk in the event of a community outbreak of Covid-19.
The underlining irony here, of course, is that the Labour Party website currently features a prominent pledge to work toward paying all contractors at least a living wage, which is currently set at $22.10.
And yet, cleaning staff continue to see the evidence of this come to fruition. The only thing they can look forward to at this stage is a $2 increase, which will come into effect in April.
"We view the cleaning staff as health workers and the MIQ locations as health facilities," Danaher said.
"We would like to see the living wage process sped up for MIQ workers."
There has been a great deal of talk of the last year on the importance of these frontline workers in keeping the country safe. It's well overdue that we start showing our appreciation by paying them a fair wage.