A decision made at a closed-door city council meeting earlier this year may mean Vancouver is no longer a certified “living wage” employer.
The City of Vancouver implemented its living wage policy in 2017, an initiative that guaranteed all civic employees and contractors were paid a wage that meets the basic needs of a family of four.
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The living wage is set and certified by an organization called the Living Wage for Families Campaign. The group’s latest assessment in November saw the living wage jump 17 per cent to $24.08 per hour for Metro Vancouver.
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At an in-camera meeting at the end of January, council voted to adopt a “revised approach” to the living wage, moving to hold minimum compensation to a five-year moving average of the living wage, rather than basing it on the annual figure.
The decision was made public Thursday.
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In a statement, the city said annual fluctuations in the living wage made administering the program difficult for large employers.
“Particularly those with multi-year collective agreements like the City. Where the annual Living Wage has decreased in the past, the City has not decreased wages and asked service providers to do the same,” it said.
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“Due to the immediate impact the new Living Wage rate would have on the pay structure for the rest of the City and the possibility the rate may be reduced in future years, Council made the decision to implement a fair wage approach based on a rolling five-year average of the Living Wage rate.”
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The city said it would base its five-year average on the Living Wage for Families Campaign’s figures, and hoped the organization would allow it to remain a certified living wage employer.
The Living Wage for Families Campaign, however, appears cool to that possibility.
In a statement, the organization’s provincial manager Anastasia French called the move “incredibly disappointing” and “against the spirit of the living wage.”
“People across the city are struggling to pay for the cost of essentials right now, not the cost of rent or food averaged out from 5 years ago,” French said.
“Working poverty has enormous fiscal implications for social programs, health care costs, education, employment, and criminality. Paying city workers the Living Wage is a key solution to solving these issues.”
According to the organization, calculating a wage based on the current five-year average would produce hourly pay of $20.90, more than $3 lower than the current living wage.
French also slammed the city for making the decision behind closed doors, saying the public should have had an opportunity to weigh in.
City council rules mean that individual councillors are the only ones permitted to say how they voted on in-camera decision.
OneCity Coun. Boyle said she had voted against the change.
“This is an unacceptable decision. It gets more expensive to live in this city every day. We should be figuring out how to pay working people enough to live here, not making it harder and harder for them to make ends meet,” she said in a statement.
“In the recent municipal election, voters told every party that affordability was a top issue. Not one party ran on reducing working people’s wages.”
Green Coun. Pete Fry posted to twitter that both he and his caucus colleague Coun. Adrianne Carr “have been, and remain committed to (a living wage) for workers for City of Vancouver.”
Global News has requested comment from Mayor Ken Sim.
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