Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

Money makes a world of difference

Rampant salaries gnaw at community, creating disillusionment, resentment and hostility, writes Brian Thomas.

Brian Thomas  |  20 Oct 2014

Two worlds collided in our living-room this week.

Representing one world was a young man who had just secured a job driving a truck for a government contractor.

The money is not great: $19 an hour before tax.

Neither are the hours: 5.30am to 3.30pm, Monday to Friday.

But there’s an even bigger drawback. Up to two hours each day are considered “downtime,” which means he gets paid for only 40 hours a week even though he’s on the job for 50.

Is that even legal, let alone moral? Go figure.

The inequity of this bit even harder when we opened the Christchurch Press and encountered another world that is normally light-years from our average wage-earner. 

It’s a world populated by the likes of Harvey Norman executives who, according to the Press, have just picked up stellar payrises for spinning the wheels of consumption.

In case you missed them, here are the stars in the Harvey Norman firmament:

• Chief executive: $2.8m (up 54 percent on last year).

• Chairman (CEO’s husband): $1.1m (up 10 percent).

• Chief operating officer: just over $2m (up 14 percent).

• Chief financial officer: $1.55m (up 14 percent).

That’s private enterprise, you say. And true enough.

But on the same page of the Press we found Lyttelton Port’s chief executive getting an 18 percent lift in his overall package to $1.24m. From a city council asset.

Several pages on, Mighty Power’s departing chief uplifted a package worth $2.2m – 68 percent more than he earned last year.

And then, only days later, Christchurch's beleaguered town clerk finally was despatched with an $800,000 sweetener. Pass the blood pressure pills, dear. 

I have no trouble believing that some of these people peer at their reflections every morning and enunciate with conviction that they are worth it.

The boards that authorise such lucrative packages must believe it, too. Why else would they be so scandalously generous with the firm’s money, and so out of synch with the netherworld traversed by our hapless truck driver, on $39,520 a year.

London Underground’s cautionary“Mind the gap” should be red-inked across the top of every higher salary agreement, because top executive packages are making nonsense of the Kiwi maxim: a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

The justification, of course, is that we’re part of a global village and must keep pace with salaries around the world. But at a rate 30 to 40 times our average wage?

Lest you think this column is motivated by envy, I’m happy to disclose (with one hand on the Bible) that the Anglican clergy stipend now sits on $47,258 with top-ups for housing and mileage and phone – quite enough, thanks kindly.

No, my difficulty with rampant salaries is that they feed the culture of avarice and drive a wedge between us.

They gnaw at community, creating disillusionment, resentment and hostility at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.

And the final irony? Hardly any of these extraordinary salaries reflect extraordinary flair and initiative, let alone service to others.

The Rev Brian Thomas edits Taonga Online.