City councillors have voted to endorse the Living Wage campaign, the first step towards the City officially becoming a living wage employer, despite the fact most staff already earn more than the $20.50/hour figure.
The living wage estimate is calculated by the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria, and uses a model of two full-time working parents with two children, aged seven and four, to calculate the minimum income required to meet the most basic household needs.
In April, the Council’s annual report stated that in Victoria it would take both parents earning $20.50 per hour to cover basic shelter, clothing, food, transportation and medical expenses, as well as two weeks of sick leave. That amount would not include savings for post-secondary education, a retirement fund, or cash towards paying off any debts.
Councillors Jeremy Loveday and Ben Isitt forwarded the motion.
“Having a living wage means someone who is working full time should be able to live and work in our community,” Loveday said. “We are agreeing in principle to the adoption of a living wage policy and have directed City staff to come up with a draft policy.”
While committing to pay a living wage is encouraged by the Community Social Planning Council, city council’s endorsement is more of a statement than a catalyst for change, Loveday admitted.
“A vast majority of City workers already make the living wage, or more,” he said. “For the City as an employer, there would not be much difference. It’s about committing to the principle and moving forward with it in the future. It’s important to show leadership as an employer, and about where we want to go.”
Coun. Geoff Young, the only one to vote against the motion, said despite it largely being a symbolic action, it could have potentially negative affects on Victoria’s citizens.
“My overall concern is that the inequalities in pay rates, to me, are now becoming the inequity between government-sector workers and non-government sector workers,” Young said. “A more interesting and useful challenge would be for us as a government to see that the wages we pay are consistent with the wages of the people who pay our salaries, that is the taxpayers.”
He noted that sub-contractors doing work for the City occasionally are paid less than the current living wage, and any change to their pay could affect contract negotiations with union workers. If starting wages for entry positions are increased, Young added, similar increases might be sought for higher level positions.
“Extra dollars for our sub-contractors would be paid by people whose income isn’t even that high,” he said, referring to taxpayers. “Victoria is not a high-paying community, overall.”
A draft policy for the living wage program will be presented at a later date by City staff and council approval is required before it can take effect.