Living Wage Week Brings Together Communities Across Canada

Published on November 5th, 2014

Living Wage Week brings together communities across Canada

Abbotsford residents make up some of the 1.8 million employed people across Canada who don’t earn enough at their jobs to pull themselves and their families above the poverty line. These are the working poor.  Paying employees a living wage can change that for millions of Canadians, and employers in about 30 cities are set to do just that.

Living wage initiatives are based on the premise that work should lift workers out of poverty. Living wage is the amount of money an employee at a job needs to earn to cover the cost of basic necessities and to adequately participate in community life. 

Unlike provincially mandated minimum wages, living wage sets an evidence-based standard that calculates the costs of living in communities based on a basket of goods and services.  Minimum wage legislation simply does not come close to meeting the actual cost of living for individuals or families but a living wage can make a world of difference in health outcomes and quality of life.  The Living Wage amount varies across the country due to differences in costs of living and government transfers as it is based on local costs for goods such as food, housing, transportation and childcare. 

Thirty cities in four provinces have engaged in local discussions on how to create living wage communities.  November 2nd to 8th is Living Wage Week in Canada and the UK– the living wage is a global movement. New Westminster, B.C. became the first municipality in Canada to officially become a living wage employer in 2010. Vancity Credit Union and the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board are two of Canada’s largest private and public sector employers to sign living wage declarations.

Based in Abbotsford, Living Wage Fraser Valley (LWFV) is a local group that works to reduce working poverty by raising community awareness, influencing local policy and recognizing local employers who pay their employees a living wage. While the Fraser Valley Living Wage is $17.02/hour, over 3850 (28%) of couple families with two children in the Fraser Valley make below $60,000, and therefore fall below the living wage threshold.

There is a role for everyone in reducing working poverty. Public and private sector businesses can commit to paying their direct and contracted employees a living wage. Business and faith-based leaders can contribute expertise by joining Living Wage Fraser Valley. Full-time working families with young children, who are earning below a living wage, can share their experiences to help raise awareness. Finally, we can all support policies that support affordable housing, childcare, transportation and education, as these bring down the amount that families need to earn privately (therefore lowering the Living Wage figure).

Abbotsford has shown both municipal and business interest in Living Wage. At the non-profit sponsored All Candidates meeting on October 21st, all but 4 candidates (25 of 29 attending) said that they would support a motion in council to direct the City of Abbotsford to become a Living Wage employer. There are currently two certified Living Wage employers in the Fraser Valley – Vancity and Mission Community Skills Centre Society.

Across Canada, employers are adopting living wage policies because it is good for their employees and good for their bottom line. When living wages are paid, staff turnover and absenteeism is reduced while productivity dramatically increases.  Proponents see living wage as a win for healthier, more prosperous communities. Working together, we can ensure that families who work full-time do not have to live in poverty.

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