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Victoria, BC: Why Esquimalt Needs a Living-Wage Policy
Times Colonist
Randall Garrison

August 31, 2010
View the Original Article

We all know that the cost of living on lower Vancouver Island is high, so high that it often drives young families out of our communities.

Yet how can we have a healthy community if those who grow up here cannot afford to stay in our community and raise a family even when they are working full-time?

How can we justify the fact that many residents go to work every day, work hard, and yet still don't earn enough to provide the basics for their family? More than half the children living in poverty in B.C. now live in families where at least one parent works full-time.

If we want to live in communities that are healthy and sustainable and where everyone is treated fairly, then we need to make sure full-time work results in a living wage.

We can start at the municipal level.

A municipal living-wage policy requires both the municipality and its contractors to pay an hourly rate of pay sufficient to cover only the necessities: Food, clothing, shelter, education and child care.

The Greater Victoria Community Council has calculated the local living wage as $17.31 per hour. That's the amount required to provide the basics for a family of four with both parents working full time and each earning a living wage.

What will a living wage cost municipal taxpayers? Direct costs should be low as almost all municipal employees already earn a package of wages and benefits equivalent to a living wage.

In the long term, a living-wage policy might even save money.

Employers who pay a living wage find that there are benefits in terms of higher morale, reduced absenteeism, better employee retention and higher productivity levels.

New Westminster, the only Canadian municipality with a living-wage policy in place, has estimated the cost as roughly equal to a tax increase of only one-tenth of one per cent.

Nevertheless, I am mindful that many residents cannot afford any increase in the local tax burden, especially those living on fixed incomes.

We need to keep municipal costs down, but the best solution is certainly not to do so by continuing to pay working families less than a living wage.

There is concern about the wider impacts of a municipal living-wage policy on local businesses. Esquimalt's proposed living-wage policy is not intended to apply to those who only supply services to the municipality on an occasional basis.

But those businesses who do bid on major and long-term municipal contracts should expect to have to win the competition based on the quality and efficiency of services they provide and not simply by paying less.

As for small businesses, I have no doubt that most strive to pay a living wage. Many in Esquimalt already do. But the main pressure on small business wages will continue to come from our high cost of living, not from living wage policies.

As well, money paid out as a living wage largely recirculates directly in the community where it is earned, thus providing a stimulus to local businesses.

Esquimalt council will be considering the impacts of a living-wage policy very carefully over the next month. In the end I am confident we will find that costs are low and that negative impacts will be few.

I firmly believe that most in our community would already agree that those who go to work every day and work hard to support their families deserve a living wage. A healthy and sustainable community requires no less. That is why Esquimalt needs a living-wage policy.