Victoria council backs campaign for ‘living wage’

Victoria council has signed onto the Living Wage for Families Campaign which aims to ensure two earners in a family of four in the city are earning at least a combined $41 an hour.

City councillors, who early in their term committed to adopting a living wage policy, have now also directed staff to report back with necessary measures so that Victoria can become certified as a living-wage employer.

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

“It’s important for a corporation the size of the City of Victoria to take this on as a policy direction and ensure it can work. So it’s kind of a leading the way kind of approach,” Alto said.

“It won’t affect directly from a pay perspective a great number of employees but it will affect employees who need to be paid an adequate amount,” she said.

Coun. Jeremy Loveday, who brought forward the motion calling for action, said the policy would be “a great step forward in having the city show leadership regarding living wages for workers.”

A living wage is different from the minimum wage, which is provincially set and is $12.65 an hour.

The Living wage for Families Campaign is hosted by the B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition. The living wage in the capital region is calculated to be $20.50 an hour.

That assumes two adults working 35 hours a week each, while providing a home for two children — one in preschool and the other in Grade 2.

The living wage assumes basic expenses including food, clothing, rental housing, child care, transportation and small savings to cover illness or emergencies. It does not cover expenses such as debt repayment for credit cards, loans or other interest; future savings for home ownership; anything beyond minimal recreation, entertainment or holiday costs or the costs of caring for a disabled, seriously ill or elderly family member.

Alto said it is not at all an extravagant wage.

“It’s a very baseline kind of level,” Alto said. “It’s not luxurious by any means but it is more than poverty level.”

Living Wage employers adopt policies which stipulate that all directly-employed staff, as well as staff employed by contractors in areas such as security, building services, food services and contracted facility maintenance should be paid a locally calculated living wage.

City director of finance Susanne Thompson said work is underway on the program and as the vast majority of city employees already make well above the individual living wage, becoming a living-wage employer would have little financial impact. She noted that the cost of benefits are added in when making the living wage calculation.

There may be some impacts for contracted services, she said, although existing procurement requires contractor to pay city wages for similar work.

Security services might be an area that would be affected by a change in policy, Thompson said.

Coun. Geoff Young voted against the initiative.

“One of the concerns I have with this is, simply that in fact there is a growing perception that there is a divide between government work and non-government work, and government work, I guess, now includes people contracting for the government,” Young said.

“As much as I’m sympathetic about the idea of higher wages I’m not sure that this is the way to do it.”

New Westminster became the first municipality to pass a living wage policy in 2011. Since others have followed suit including Central Saanich, Vancouver, Quesnel and Port Coquitlam.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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