Central Saanich first to be ‘living-wage’ certified in capital region

Central Saanich has become the first local government in the capital region to be certified as a Living Wage Employer.

The living wage — $20.50 — is the hourly amount that a family of four is said to need to cover basic expenses, with two adults working full time. A living wage is different from the minimum wage, which is provincially set at $12.65 an hour and set to increase to $15.20 an hour by 2021.

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“Internally, we’re already pretty much paying the $20.50 that is currently identified as the living wage for the capital region,” said Mayor Ryan Windsor, noting district contractors would also be expected to pay the living wage, which might mean modest costs for the district. “So I’m not sure there will be a significant impact, but we do acknowledge that there could be some impact.”

Central Saanich, with a workforce that can swell to about 130 employees, does not do a lot of work through outside contracts, Windsor said.

Even with some impacts, he said, the move was considered worthwhile. “We feel that the importance of doing it outweighs the modest cost.

“It’s an expensive region and we’re all trying to find a way to balance it out. We’re working on housing, but we’re also working on the wage side. It’s a sensitive topic, no doubt, but I think that it’s one that we have to, as leaders, try to address.

The living wage calculation is based on a two-parent family with two children — considered the most common family unit in B.C. — with each parent working full-time (earning a combined $41 an hour). The regional living-wage amount is calculated annually by the Living Wage for Families Campaign.

Central Saanich first implemented a living-wage policy in July 2017. It then worked with the Living Wage for Families Campaign to apply for certification and amend the initial policy to cover more workers, including those in vulnerable industries.

“We hope that others will pick up the mantle,” Ryan said. “I know that it has to make sense for the employer. We sort of did this in an incremental way and found that it did make sense. We adopted the initial policy, sought out work, made some adjustments and then got the final certification about 14 months later.”

Victoria councillors have signed on to the Living Wage for Families Campaign and have identified being certified as an objective.

Victoria director of finance Susanne Thompson said that work is underway on the program.

As the vast majority of city employees already make well above the individual living wage, she said, becoming a living-wage employer would have little financial impact. She noted that the cost of benefits is added in when making the living-wage calculation.

Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto first raised the notion of a living wage with councillors in 2015.

Six other local governments across British Columbia have become certified.

Employers of all sizes in all industries can apply for certification from the Living Wage for Families Campaign to demonstrate their commitment to paying their staff and contractors at least the regional living wage.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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