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.


  1. Interesting! How does the living wage compare to what the BU suggests for salaries? Or does the BU only cover what pastors should be paid, but not other staff?

    1. So far as I know, they only do pastor's salaries. Our 'working group' isn't actually going to look at the pastor's salary: it's just too complicated as he gets so much of it as 'goods in kind' (e.g. free house + utilities, free car). We could compare with what they suggest for churches without manses, but I haven't pushed that issue as I can't believe the BU would have suggested a salary below $24.11 per hour.