Liv­ing wage pro­po­nents look to spark na­tional move­ment

Chal­lenge is con­vinc­ing busi­nesses there are real ben­e­fits for them

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - ALEK­SAN­DRA SA­GAN

TORONTO — Ear­lier this year, Char­lie Van­der­pol’s hourly wage — along with many of her col­leagues — jumped a cou­ple of dol­lars. For the Muskoka Brew­ery’s re­tail store em­ployee, the raise meant she could start sav­ing for ren­o­va­tions on her house in Brace­bridge.

Her em­ployer boosted wages for about half of its roughly 120 work­ers as part of a com­mit­ment an­nounced late last month to pay ev­ery­one a liv­ing wage.

Muskoka Brew­ery is one of more than 200 Cana­dian com­pa­nies rec­og­niz­ing that min­i­mum wage may not be enough and new mea­sures might be nec­es­sary to help the coun­try’s work­ing poor. Pro­po­nents say it not only helps peo­ple make ends meet, but can also ben­e­fit busi­nesses and their com­mu­ni­ties.

Liv­ing wage is typ­i­cally cal­cu­lated by de­ter­min­ing the net hourly wage a per­son needs to pay for ne­ces­si­ties and mod­est so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties (such as movie tick­ets) for a fam­ily with two work­ing par­ents and two young chil­dren in cer­tain com­mu­ni­ties.

In Toronto, for ex­am­ple, the Cana­dian Cen­tre for Pol­icy Al­ter­na­tives de­ter­mined that hourly wage is $18.52 com­pared to the prov­ince’s $11.25 min­i­mum wage. In Van­cou­ver, the Liv­ing Wage for Fam­i­lies Cam­paign said it’s $20.64, more than $10 above Bri­tish Columbia’s min­i­mum wage.

The liv­ing wage rate in the Muskoka re­gion north of Toronto, where Muskoka Brew­ery is lo­cated, is ex­pected to be fi­nal­ized in the fall, said Kelly Wat­son, the com­pany’s di­rec­tor of peo­ple and de­vel­op­ment. But she said she ex­pects the brew­ery is al­ready pay­ing close to what the liv­ing wage will be.

Van­der­pol re­called feel­ing re­lieved and ex­cited when the brew­ery told its em­ploy­ees of its liv­ing wage ini­tia­tive.

“It re­ally re­lieves a lot of stress in your life,” she said.

Muskoka Brew­ery is among more than 200 em­ploy­ers in On­tario, B.C., Saskatchewan and Al­berta that have pledged to pay their em­ploy­ees a liv­ing wage, ac­cord­ing to Liv­ing Wage Canada.

Tom Cooper, co-or­di­na­tor of the On­tario Liv­ing Wage Net­work, calls the liv­ing wage “a win-win-win.”

Hap­pier, more re­laxed em­ploy­ees re­sult in in­creased pro­duc­tiv­ity, lower turnover and less sick time used, he said.

It’s some­thing Wat­son says she’s no­ticed at the brew­ery.

“You’re re­ally al­low­ing that em­ployee’s fam­ily to live a much health­ier, more sus­tain­able life­style, and that res­onates when they come into work be­cause then they’re able to fo­cus on work more and be more pro­duc­tive and en­gaged,” she said.

The shift to a liv­ing wage can also boost a com­mu­nity’s econ­omy, Cooper said, as work­ers are likely to spend some of their ex­tra in­come on lo­cal goods and ser­vices.

Still, it can be dif­fi­cult to con­vince busi­nesses to in­crease pay­cheques at the ex­pense of their bot­tom line.

One of the big­gest chal­lenges, Cooper said, is when an or­ga­ni­za­tion boosts all their em­ploy­ees’ pay to a liv­ing wage in one go. The net­work some­times sug­gests a stag­gered ap­proach — for ex­am­ple, mak­ing the change first for full­time em­ploy­ees and then in­clud­ing part-timers a year later.

Cooper said he hopes the calls for a liv­ing wage grow louder across Canada.

“I think liv­ing wage needs to be­come a na­tional move­ment,” he said.

For that to hap­pen, more ev­i­dence is needed to show busi­nesses how the pay bump can ben­e­fit them, said Todd White, chair of the Hamil­ton-Went­worth District School Board, which took the liv­ing wage pledge sev­eral years ago.

Cooper’s net­work is work­ing on what he says will re­sult in “an air­tight case.” Along with two uni­ver­si­ties, the net­work has started to gather feed­back from the busi­nesses that have im­ple­mented a liv­ing wage so far, as well as their em­ploy­ees. Re­sults are ex­pected this fall and early next year.

Mean­while, the school board is work­ing with its lo­cal liv­ing wage chap­ter to po­ten­tially study whether a liv­ing wage in­come can im­pact stu­dents’ aca­demic per­for­mance.

“So that’s, I think, the next step … re­ally prov­ing the ben­e­fit, the ben­e­fits and the so­cial-eco­nomic im­pacts on all those in­volved.”

PETER POWER, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Todd White says busi­nesses need ev­i­dence a pay bump is good for them.

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