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$10 minimum wage urged to address high cost of living

Friday 22 March 2024 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Economy, National


$10 minimum wage urged to address high cost of living
Ministry of Internal Affairs (INTAFF) Inspector Labour and Consumer Maru Mariri-Tepou. SBMA/24032116

The panel reviewing the minimum wage has been asked to consider the living conditions of the most vulnerable, grassroots people when compiling their final recommendation for the new minimum wage rate.

The plea was made by a Cook Islands resident during a public consultation held at the New Hope Church in Avarua on Wednesday night.

The current minimum wage sits at $9 per hour, a 50-cent increase from the previous rate of $8.50. This raise followed a recommendation by the 2023 Minimum Wage Review Panel, which also proposed a further increase to $9.30 per hour in 2024.

The 2024 Minimum Wage Review Panel is holding public consultations to gather input on the new minimum wage rate. The panel comprises Maru Mariri-Tepou, Ministry of Internal Affairs (INTAFF) Inspector Labour and Consumer, Tristan Metcalfe, Director of Economic Planning – representative from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management, Eve Hayden, Chamber of Commerce (employer representative), Helen Maunga, Cook Islands Workers Association executive board member, and Simona Aumetua Nicholas, community representative.

Also read:

Survey shows ‘larger employers’ pay above minimum wage, says Chamber

 Expats seek minimum wage increase to match rising costs

Public submissions open for national minimum wage review  

The resident, who is also a staff member at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, said they believe the ministry should strongly consider the needs of large families with children up to 16 when making decisions on the minimum wage rate.

They explained that due to the high cost of living in the Cook Islands, many residents seek support from the ministry for essentials like uniforms, bus tickets, and lunch tickets.

“I’m only going to focus on that perspective. Nothing else, but on the most vulnerable families in the outer islands, and here in Rarotonga,” they said. “Given the living condition, you would be surprised if you do go out into the community, right out into the community, and see homes that are not liveable for our children. This is the area that I strongly support. 

“I would say $10 is a fair increase.”

Cook Islands Workers Association’s Tuaine Maunga said workers would like the minimum wage to increase to at least $10.

Tuaine does not want to see a $0.50 increase and suggests a $1.50 top-up to the current wage rate.

“And I know the government will always say, ‘oh well, not affordable and all that’. I think that would be a more reasonable increase to come up to $1.50,” he said.

“The reason being that the employees are very important to the employers. They want to keep their workers.

“They don’t want their workers to run away or run to another employer. So I believe most of the employers will not only sit to that $10 wage, they might increase it maybe to $11 to try to retain their workers.

“So that is my recommendation, $1.50 on top of the past minimum wage. I think that’s very reasonable.”

Helen Maunga, executive board member of the Cook Islands Workers Association, said recent surveys conducted by the association show that people oppose a differentiated minimum wage for residents of the Pa Enua and young workers (youth).

“Of all the people that I gave a question to, they all said no. I didn’t ask for reasons,” Helen said.

“And the other question was, I also raised it in last year’s survey – do you think that there should be a youth rate? Again, 100 per cent said no. So it’s good to know.”

Helen highlighted a crucial question many had: does the minimum wage influence decisions to work locally or abroad?

“I must guarantee to you all, 100 per cent of them said yes. There is a lot of influence. It’s the reason why our people are moving overseas.”

She said another key question was: what do people believe a realistic minimum wage should be?

The majority answered $10 per hour, Helen added.

Community representative Simona Nicholas said most respondents favoured a rate similar to New Zealand’s, while two suggested $15 an hour. The NZ adult minimum wage will increase from $22.70 to $23.15 per hour, from April 1.

Nicholas explained that these two respondents suggested $15 because they couldn’t afford two loaves of bread with the current minimum wage.

Mariri-Tepou from the Ministry of Internal Affairs reminded everyone that the deadline for public submissions is today at 4pm. Submissions received after this time and date won't be considered.

She also said that they can’t disclose survey results or details about submissions until the recommendation report is made public, which typically happens after parliamentary approval.