Whangarei community groups, workers' organisations and even the district council could be asked to become coalition partners in the Living Wage Aotearoa Campaign.
The Combined Trade Unions (CTU) aims to help form coalitions with community groups nationwide to address the widening inequality caused by low wages and the erosion of employment stability.
The Living Wage movement would work through the community putting "moral" pressure on the public sector to pay a decent wage, people heard at a meeting at the Old Library on Monday night.
About 45 workers, employers, beneficiaries and unionists attended the meeting.
Jill Ovens, from the Service and Food Workers Union, described a Living Wage as offering low-income workers "a basic but decent lifestyle, where they live above the poverty line".
"A living wage is what workers need to survive and participate as active citizens in society," Ms Ovens said.
Communities should urge local marae, churches and other groups to endorse the idea, and encourage the district council to pass a Living Wage resolution as London had done, she said.
"We have to shift the debate about wages from what employers are prepared to pay to what people need to live on."
Ms Ovens said low-income Whangarei workers were in the same position as a large number of New Zealanders whose hours had been cut to 30 a week or less, meaning they were doubly disadvantaged.
Most cleaners in the public contract sector were paid $13.85 an hour, calculated by employers to be just above the minimum wage of $13.50.
The minimum wage is about 40 per cent of the average wage, although when the Minimum Wage Act was introduced in 1983 it was 60 per cent, Ms Ovens said. If still 60 per cent, it would be between $17 and $18 an hour. At the meeting, one woman said if her wage as a cleaner rose that high, she and her three children would be able to live well.
A recent Ministry of Social Development survey showed the median household income fell 3 per cent last year, mostly hitting people "at the bottom", Ms Ovens said.
Of the estimated 270,000 New Zealand children living in poverty, two out of five lived in homes where parents worked.
Other speakers included Garry Parsloe, CTU secretary and leader of the Maritime Union of New Zealand, which is in a stop-work stoush with the Ports of Auckland over individual contracts, and Darien Fenton, the Labour Party's industrial relations spokeswoman.
Ms Fenton said a bill to raise the minimum income to $15 an hour would be voted on in Parliament this afternoon. She predicted the bill that could increase the income of thousands of New Zealanders would be lost by National, Act and United Future voting against it.