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City of Vancouver ends living wage policy for workers in closed-door meeting

Vancouver City Hall is seen on April 20, 2022. (CTV) Vancouver City Hall is seen on April 20, 2022. (CTV)
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The City of Vancouver has brought an end to its policy to pay employees a living wage, something it has guaranteed since 2017.

The decision, which happened at an in-camera meeting on Jan. 31 was brought to light by Coun. Christine Boyle on Thursday.

"I think the living wage is really important. It is based on what it actually costs to live in Vancouver," she told CTV News.

"It really is about just being able to stay in Vancouver and call it home. I think it's important that City of Vancouver staff be able to live in Vancouver."

Living Wage for Families BC calculates the hourly amount someone working full time needs to earn in order to pay for essentials including food, rental housing, transportation and childcare. It's based on a household with two employed adults and two children and does not include expenses related to debt repayment or factor in saving for retirement or post-secondary education.

"It affords a decent but still very modest standard of living," the campaign's website says.

For this year, the rate is $24.08 per hour, in Metro Vancouver – a 17 per cent increase from last year, which is the largest year-over-year jump recorded. The campaign noted that the `two main factors driving the rate to spike were food and shelter.

Boyle says – generally speaking -- those who benefit most from working for a living wage employer are non-unionized contract workers, who are those who would otherwise be paid the least.

"It tends to have the biggest lift for janitors, cleaning staff, security workers," she said.

"They're certainly feeling the pressure, like all of us are, of the rising cost of everything."

Because the meeting happened behind closed doors, Boyle was unable to discuss exactly why and how the decision not to continue to be certified as a living wage employer was made. She is also prevented from publicizing anyone's vote on the matter but her own – which was in opposition.

"I can say I am incredibly disappointed that a majority of councillors voted to end our living wage policy,' 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."

A document released by the city summarizes what is being done instead which is to "direct city staff to establish a revised approach to support the living wage program, implementing a five-year moving average living wage to be used as the standard."

'PEOPLE ACROSS THE CITY ARE STRUGGLING'

Anastasia French, the provincial spokesperson for the Living Wage for Families campaign, said using a five-year average won't help workers who are facing unprecedented inflationary and economic pressure.

"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 five years ago," she wrote in a statement.

"We are disheartened that they made this decision behind closed doors, with no option for the public to provide input and share their views on the importance of everyone earning a living wage."

She also told CTV News the city has not provided the campaign with information about how many employees will be impacted and what the total cost would have been to increase pay to align with the increased living wage.

A number of other, smaller municipalities have already boosted pay and recertified as living wage employers for the coming year, months before the deadline to do so. Those include Port Coquitlam, Quesnel and Victoria.

Boyle said she is glad to see other cities committing to continue to pay their workers a living wage, but that she worries about the example Vancouver is setting by opting out.

"I'm very disappointed," she said.

"I will certainly be working hard to push Vancouver to get back on track to being a living wage employer because it's such a basic and understandable ideas that people who work here should afford to live here."

Green Party councillors Pete Fry and Adrianne Carr both posted to Twitter saying they have been and remain committed to seeing the city pay workers a living wage.

Neither Mayor Ken Sim nor any of the councillors with his ABC Vancouver party have made public statements. CTV News has reached out to the mayor's office for comment and this story will be updated if a response is received.

'A MORE PRACTICABLE APPROACH'

A statement from the City of Vancouver says all employees are paid more than the province's minimum wage of $15.65 per hour and the "vast majority" are at or above the $24.08 per hour living wage. It described the move as necessary for logistical reasons, not cost-saving ones. It noted that, in the past, when the annual rate decreased the city did not decrease wages.

"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," the statement said.

"We will continue to use the rate set by Living Wage for Families BC by implementing a rolling five-year average, which will smooth out annual fluctuations."

The statement also said the city will still pursue certification as a living wage employer.

"We hope LWFBC will consider this variation in implementation and allow organizations that use this approach to continue to be certified, as we are continuing to use their calculated living wage rate but applying a more practicable approach for large organizations," the statement said. 

Correction

This story has been updated to correct the provincial minimum wage. It was $15.65 at the time this article was published, not $16.60.

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