Vancouver council votes against re-certifying as living wage employer

The BC Government announced that minimum wage will increase to $17.30 in June. While that may be good news for minimum wage workers, this hike is still not enough to keep up with the cost of living in Metro Vancouver. Cecilia Hua reports.

The City of Vancouver won’t be a living wage certified employer after council voted against the move. 

The motion came from One City councillor Christine Boyle. It called for the City of Vancouver to be re-certified as a living wage employer by the Living Wage for Families Campaign. That organization currently lists the livable wage for Metro Vancouver at $25.68 an hour.

The City of Vancouver became a living wage certified employer in 2017. That was scrapped in January 2023 and replaced with a Fair Wage program, which sets the baseline wage at $21.86 an hour.

Boyle says people working for the city deserve to be paid enough to live where they work.

“It’s infuriating and embarrassing to me that Mayor Sim and the ABC majority are telling people who work for the City of Vancouver that they don’t deserve enough to live here,” she said.

“The impact is that people who work for the City of Vancouver who aren’t making a living wage will need to rely on a second or third job, or an hour or two commute to where they can afford housing.”

Approximately 240 direct city employees make less than the living wage. Those employees work primarily in security, janitorial, graffiti removal, and traffic control services.

City Manager Paul Mochrie was asked about the challenges of implementing a living wage. He told council that significant year-over-year fluctuations in the living wage make it complicated to roll out for the more than 8,000 people who work for the city.

“The primary challenge is the fact that it’s unknown in advance and there has been significant fluctuation in that number over time — often up, sometimes down,” he said.

“In 2022, there was a very significant change upward in excess of 17 per cent, which does make it difficult to administer in terms of impact on our wage scales for internal employees.”

A staff report delivered to council in January 2023 found it would take an additional $1.8 million to align employee wages with the living wage.

“As council knows, in our collective agreements, we negotiate and plan wage increases several years in advance, taking into account projected inflation. When we see that level of fluctuation, that was the primary challenge from an administrative standpoint that we were wrestling with,” Mochrie said.

He explained the new Fair Wage policy applies the same premise as the Living Wage for Families Campaign, in terms of how it applies to city staff and contractors. The difference is in the calculation of the wage and benefit threshold. Mochrie says the city is currently applying the living wage calculation and averages it out over five years.

‘Affordability isn’t just about wages’: ABC councillor

ABC councillor Lenny Zhou argues that the city provides more for employees than just wages.

“Affordability isn’t just about wages. There’s a whole package that matters: employee benefits, wellness programs, pension, personal development opportunities, RRSP matching, and many others. The City of Vancouver has all those covered,” he said.

But Boyle says the decision from council sends the wrong message.

“What we’ve heard from City of Vancouver staff is that bringing in the living wage policy and continuing to commit to it made a tangible difference in the lives of many of our employees,” she said.

Council voted to continue with the Fair Wage policy, and look at adjusting the average rate from a period of five years down to three. Council also voted to direct the city manager’s office to reach out to Living Wage for Families of BC about the challenges of implementing the living wage for large organizations.

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