Pressure mounts for legal industry to employ living wage

Law firms are under increasing pressure to pay their most vulnerable members – junior lawyers, support staff and compensation staff – living wages. Photo / 123rf

Amid fears that wages have stagnated despite the cost of living, unions and associations are uniting to call on legal industry to employ a living wage.

The Aotearoa Legal Workers’ Union, in conjunction with E tū, the Council of Trade Unions, the Anglican Bishop of Wellington, the Catholic Archdiocese of Wellington and the respective law student societies of New Zealand’s five law schools are calling on legal employers to become living wage accredited.

In a letter to 47 law firms across the country, co-chairs Tess Upperton and Isabella Lenihan-Ikin said that “a law firm that pays its most vulnerable members – junior lawyers, support staff and staff compensation – the living wage, contributes to a more inclusive and respectful workplace”.

The pandemic and cost of living crisis have exacerbated growing poverty and inequality in Aotearoa, undermining the pursuit of justice on which the legal profession is founded, the letter reads.

“Wages for New Zealanders, including those of legal workers, have stagnated, but they are working harder and longer than ever.”

Speaking to the Herald, Lenihan-Ikin said law firms have a responsibility to value their workers and that decent pay jobs can demonstrate the value and respect they have for their staff.

“We want the legal profession to step up. We are in a cost of living crisis, and it is unfair and inequitable that salaries have not increased, despite significant increases in the cost of living.”

There are currently 11 legal employers who are Accredited Living Wage Employers. These include: MinterEllisonRuddWatts, Buddle Findlay, Meredith Connell, Anderson Lloyd, Anthony Harper, Presland and Co Lawyers, Darroch Forrest Lawyers, Wesley Jones, Henry Hughes Law and Intellectual Property, Black Door Law and Lyall & Thornton Barristers and Solicitors .

According to the Living Wage Movement Aotearoa, in order to become an accredited employer, it must ensure that all workers and contractors receive a living wage and that no changes are made to terms of employment or working hours. Employees must also have access to a union.

The New Zealand living wage hourly rate for the period 2022 and 2023 is $23.65 and will come into effect on September 1, 2022.

Living Wage Movement Aotearoa New Zealand brings together community, union and faith groups. Accredited employers include Wellington City Council and the Parliamentary Service.

In 2020, the banking sector became New Zealand’s first living wage accredited industry.

Michael A. Bynum