Northern Advocate Column

5 weeks delivering the morning paper

27th January 2018

The ad said earn some extra money over the holidays and get fit. Yep, I thought, both of those things would be good right now.

“Own car required to deliver newspapers in the morning.” I could do that. And it would be kind of amusing to be working both ends of the industry. “Here’s your paper… by the way, check out my column on page 5.” So I phoned the number and said I was interested. 

“We start at 1.30 in the morning.” Gulp, earlier than I expected. But since I’d talked it up so much with my partner I couldn’t back out now. “Fine,” I said. 

“It’s minimum wage plus an allowance to cover petrol.” “OK,” I replied, hoping it might have been more. 

The first morning was a training run. I was desperately tired at the end of it, as I hadn’t slept at all before the alarm went off. Having major second thoughts.

Next day I was on my own, delivering papers to the Riverside area of Whangārei and part of Onerahi, about 200 addresses. 

A difficult morning, as I struggled to find letterboxes in the dark and took a wrong turn, delivering papers to the completely wrong street. Still managed at least to get the papers delivered by 7am, before the phones started ringing. 

Because you get paid a piece rate, I’d effectively worked for less than minimum wage. The per paper payment is worked out by the average amount of time it’s supposed to take. At this stage I was sceptical about it all. 

However, after a couple of days, and fewer mistakes, I saw that it was possible to do it on time, even quicker if I ran between the car and letterboxes. 

One of the things it was interesting to realise is how computers are speeding up tasks like newspaper delivery. Each morning we got a printed sheet with all the addresses in the exact order you should deliver them. Using Google Maps a computer programme has worked out the most efficient route.  

For the most part, things were going well, in the first week I only missed a few letterboxes and delivered an Advocate instead of a Herald once.  

Once I started back at my normal day job after Christmas, however, boy was I tired. Some mornings I felt like giving up mid-run and lying on the back seat of the car to sleep. Please just let me close my eyes! 

The BP on Riverside Drive was my saviour on occasions, though it hurt to eat into what I was earning. I can say that a beef roll has never tasted as good as at 4am, feeling somewhat sorry for myself. A coffee was just heaven. 

Today was my last day, after five weeks. It will have felt good delivering this final paper. In the weeks ahead, when I wake up at a civilised time, hopefully I can spare a thought for the army of people in New Zealand who work through the night to do the things that, as consumers, we demand. 

On 1st April, newspaper deliverers, like tens of thousands of other hardworking Kiwis, will be getting a pay rise, with the minimum wage going up to $16.50 an hour. More increases are meant to follow, so that by 2021 the minimum wage will be $20 an hour. It’s the least the Government can do. 

To those delivering the papers in Whangārei this morning, I now have some understanding of the job you’re doing. Though not, it must be said, on a cold, wet winter morning. I was only a fair-weather and temporary colleague. Kia kaha.