Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Should our church pay staff at least the Living Wage?

Going through the budget prior to our church's recent AGM, I noticed that several of our staff didn't seem to have had a pay increase for some time.  As I was thinking about that, I also wondered whether they were receiving a 'living wage'.  After all, I know that churches sometimes skimp a bit on salaries so they can make more funds available to other aspects of their work and I didn't want us to be doing that.

I raised this with the elders and then ultimately Martin, on my behalf, raised it with the whole church at the AGM.  The church decided to appoint a working group to investigate this and bring a proposal to the church at next year's AGM.  To encourage the whole church engage in this discussion, I was asked to email the church with my thoughts on all this.  As this is something I've been thinking about a lot in recent years, I wanted to share it here, too.

Dear Church Family,

At the AGM, the church agreed to appoint a working group to look into our policies on staff salaries in relation to both the Living Wage and inflation-related increases. This was partly as a result of my raising these issues with the elders. In order to start a discussion on this within the church, here are my reasons for doing so.

The Church is the first-fruits of God's Kingdom. One day Jesus will reign here on Earth. Until that happens, I believe that one of our roles is to join with God in redeeming his world by creating 'islands' where things function somewhat like they will when Jesus rules in person. In Jesus' Kingdom, I believe that no one will be in material want: as we are told in Revelation, it's a world with no sickness or crying or pain. So, I don't think anyone employed by us should be in material want if we can avoid it, either.

Living Wage Movement Aotearoa New Zealand have calculated what it costs an 'average' household (2 parents, 2 kids) to live without material want in Auckland. For the family to be able to live in a house in the bottom quartile of the rental market and eat an adequate diet, and for the kids can go on school trips and buy simple presents so they can accept invites to birthday parties, while one adult works full-time and the other half-time, they calculated in 2013 that those adults need to be paid a minimum of $24.11 per hour. (You may also have heard the figure of $18.40 per hour - that's the 2013 national number.  It's higher in Auckland mostly because housing is so expensive here.)

I would like us to consider whether we should take this 'living wage' and treat it like the minimum wage: not that everyone should be paid the same, but that no one should be paid less than it. This isn't something we can impose on all of New Zealand, but it's something I'd like us to consider for the staff we employ ourselves: to think whether we need to take this step in order to communally live out what God's Kingdom may look like.

I would like us also to consider whether we need to have a policy on inflation-increasing wages. At the moment, inflation is running quite low (0.3% from June 2014 to June 2015). However, sometimes it's much higher than this.  If we don't increase peoples' wages when that happens, their effective income decreases over time as their expenses go up.  In order to keep our staff well-provided-for, I would like us to consider not only paying them a 'living wage' now, but also increasing (and decreasing?) those wages annually in line with inflation over the previous year. This would be independent of any actual pay rises we may wish to give them.

In this discussion, I'm primarily thinking of the staff we hire directly or contract regularly (i.e. the cleaner, office administrator, pastor and youth worker).  In the future, we may choose to widen the scope of our action to those whose services we contract for specific jobs (e.g. the people who repair our photocopier or make our billboards) or even to the people who produce the goods we consume (e.g. by purchasing fair trade tea and coffee).  But in the first instance, it made sense to me to consider the people over whose situations we have the most influence.

I understand that making these changes would cost us money that we currently don't have. However, there are many places in the Bible where God promises to honour those who give away more than they can afford in order to advance His Kingdom. Do we think paying our staff more would advance God's Kingdom? If so, are we willing to do so and rely on God to make up the shortfall somehow? To me, and maybe to you, such a change feels scary, but I think it is important to consider whether it is something God would like us to do.

Thank you for your consideration of these things.

In Christ,

--Heather :-)

So far it seems to have sparked a fair bit of interest (and more emails than I'd be able to deal with on an on-going basis!).  Some feedback has been negative, but that's only come from people who think I'm asking for everyone to be paid the same.  No one has yet objected on principle to the idea of choosing a salary floor higher than the legal minimum wage.

I don't know if I really want everyone to be paid at least the official living wage (after all, it's needs-based, and not everyone needs quite as much as it offers).  But I'm pleased that our church has now chosen to consider what we think is an appropriate remuneration policy, rather than simply following the market and the legal minima.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Climate change effects: vegan diet vs. flying

At a recent bike polo tournament, a vegan friend asked Martin if he was going to be going to the upcoming World Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship in Timaru.  Martin replied that he wasn't because he didn't want to incur the carbon impact of flying.*  His friend said he should go vegan, then he could fly with a clear conscience as the climate impact of a vegan diet is so much less than that of an omnivorous one.

*We did look into him going there via. train, ferry and bus, but it would take 2-3 days each way and we decided that wasn't a good use of his leave!

I thought that couldn't be right.  However, after crunching numbers, I found it to be much closer than we'd expected.

Firstly, I calculated the kg CO2e from flying to Timaru using the atmosfair calculator.  This is the most sophisticated calculator I know: it allows you to choose which model of plane you are using for each leg of your journey, which can make a big difference to the amount of CO2e emitted per person.

The Air New Zealand website informed me that, to fly to Timaru from Auckland, you take an Airbus A320 to Wellington then a Beech 1900D on to Timaru.  Unfortunately, the Beech 1900D isn't listed in the calculator, so I chose a BAE Jetstream 41 as the nearest equivalent.  Inputting those planes into the calculator gave a round trip CO2e of 610kg.

440kg CO2e directly, 170kg CO2e from contrails and other effects.
Emissions from flying Auckland to Timaru return
How does this compare to the emissions Martin would save by going vegan?

The last time we audited the carbon emissions of our lifestyle (in 2012), we found that our diet is responsible for around 1020kg CO2e each.  I've now divided that into the portions from vegan foods and non-vegan foods (here): I found that almost exactly half of those emissions are from to non-vegan foods.

Obviously, if we went vegan, the emissions from the vegan portion of our diet would go up: all the calories and nutrients we currently get from meat, milk and eggs would have to come from somewhere else.  However, seeing as most of our lunches and dinners are vegan (if you don't count the ubiquitous fish sauce!), a good first approximation might be that going vegan might reduce the carbon emissions of our diet from around 1000kg CO2e to maybe something like 600kg CO2e.

That 400kg CO2e reduction wouldn't be enough to offset a flight to Timaru, but it was certainly more than I was expecting.

Still, if we were willing to go vegan in order to prevent those carbon emissions (something I don't want to do, but think may be at least worth considering in the light of these findings), I don't think it would be ethical to replace them with emissions elsewhere!  After all, currently Martin and I are each responsible for around 4.4T CO2e per year - nearly four times what the planet could absorb, were everyone to live like us.  We need to be looking for ways to reduce this number, not redistribute its sources.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Freedom for former prostitutes in Kolkatta

I've mentioned earlier the work of Freeset in Kolkatta, India, who provide work for women who've been trapped in the sex trade.  They were featured on National Radio a couple of days ago!  Listen here to a half-hour interview with one of their Kiwi staff :-)

They're currently fundraising to buy a new building in order to considerably expand both the scope and depth of their work.  If you haven't already donated, please consider doing so.  They'll be purchasing the building at the end of this month, using a mix of donated money and loans, but the more they are able to pay up-front the better for them.

(NB They don't seem to be doing updating the 'thermometer' on the donations page very often - I heard from one of their founders today that they've currently raised 50% of what they need, not the 40% it says on the thermometer).

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I did it!!!! Fair Trade white chocolate

Note: since I wrote this post I've learned more about making white chocolate.  See my update here.

As mentioned earlier, no one sells fair trade white chocolate in New Zealand.  Piko Wholefoods in Christchurch have, however, recently started selling fair trade cocoa butter.  My friend Anna bought some for me on a recent trip down there and on the weekend she came over to help me figure out how to turn it into white chocolate.

We didn't have a recipe to go on, so I decided to simply use 1:1:1 cocoa butter:milk powder:sugar - looking at the ingredients of Cadbury Dream white chocolate it seems that's more or less what they do.  The amount of vanilla was the same as what I used for the coconut butter white chocolate.

It worked really well!  It's not quite as smooth as the commercial stuff, but the flavour's pretty much perfect :-)  And, so long as you have a microwave and an electric spice grinder it's very easy to do.  It even works out at a similar price to non-fair trade white chocolate from the supermarket at around $1.60 per 100g.

Here's our recipe:

  • 60g cocoa butter
  • 60g full-fat milk powder, ground at least 20 seconds in an electric spice grinder (if you don't do this your chocolate won't be really smooth, but if you beat really hard after step 2 it won't be too bad)
  • seeds of half a vanilla bean
  • 1/4 cup (60g) white sugar,  ground at least 20 seconds in an electric spice grinder (if can't do this, use sifted icing sugar and again beat really hard)


  1. Chop cocoa butter and melt in the microwave (takes 3-5 minutes).
  2. Mix in milk powder, then vanilla, then sugar.
  3. Pour into a silicone loaf tin or molds and put in the fridge or freezer to firm up.  If making a chocolate bar, mark into squares with a blunt knife after 30-40 minutes in the fridge or 10-15 minutes in the freezer.  Be sure not to cut too deep (like I did) or your block will break up!
Gives 180g.

Below are some photos of the process.

Cocoa butter.  I'd never seen it before and I was surprised how strongly (and yummily) it smells. I'm storing it in the fridge in a well-sealed container so it doesn't lose that scent over time.

Melted cocoa butter.  I was surprised how yellow it was.  (And no, the jug isn't clean - it was too much hassle to clean it properly between test batches...)

This is how thick the mixture was after mixing unground milk powder into the melted cocoa butter.

But this was how runny it got after beating.  You can mix it by hand - I was just using a machine because I had it available.  I did it by hand on an earlier batch and it worked fine.

However, if you add ground milk powder into the melted cocoa butter it's much, much runnier.  This photo was taken after simply mixing milk powder into melted cocoa butter - no beating involved

And it's still pretty runny after adding the vanilla and ground sugar.

I've now got a fair trade white chocolate that's plenty good enough for me.  All I need to do, now, is figure out how to make a decent nutella substitute and there won't be any non-fair trade cocoa products I actually want that I'll have to do without :-)  I do still have two outstanding questions about the process, though:
  1. Can I use vanilla essence?  I used actual vanilla in the recipe as people always fuss about chocolate seizing if you let any water near it, and I presume there's water (or alcohol, which is chemically very similar) in my essence.  However, I'm pretty clumsy so I've had a lot of experience exposing molten chocolate to water.  Generally nothing happens so I'm pretty skeptical about how readily seizing occurs.  Now that I'm confident of the process, I'll probably try a small batch with vanilla essence next time.
  2. Can I use skim milk powder?  We always stock skim milk powder as I use it to make yoghurt or custard once or twice a week, but we usually don't have the full-fat stuff.  Cadbury's white chocolate contained 'milk solids' rather than 'skim milk solids', so I decided to use whole milk powder first.  Again, now that I'm confident I have a recipe that works, next time I want to try a small batch with skim milk powder and see if that tastes OK.
Update: see discussion on these questions in the comments, below.