Group puts region’s minimum livable wage at $15.42 in 2017

The hourly wage needed to provide a decent living in Waterloo Region has gone down, but it still exceeds the legal minimum.

Living Wage Waterloo Region has calculated next year’s living wage for the region at 63 cents lower than 2016’s level, largely due to the Canada Child Benefit implemented this year by the federal government.

The 2017 living wage in the region has been determined to be $15.42 an hour, which is the hourly wage someone working full-time year-round needs to earn to cover their basic expenses and support social inclusion in community life. It is based on actual costs in the region for things like rent, food, transportation, hydro and child care. It also takes into account taxes and government transfers.

The current legal minimum wage in Ontario is $11.40 per hour.

The living wage uses a reference of a two-parent household, both working full-time with two children. This new calculation reflects a decrease of 63 cents from the 2016 amount of $16.05.

Anne Coleman from Living Wage Waterloo Region says they first calculated the living wage here in 2014. It was $16 an hour then. She says each year’s wage will fluctuate based on different policies that come into play.

“We believe that when someone is working full-time that they should be able to support themselves and their family and to be able to live above the poverty line. This information really is a practical tool for employers so that they’re able to have a number to work with to pay their staff a decent wage,” Coleman said.

They operate The Living Wage Employer Program, which is open to all employers and is designed to recognize employers who voluntarily pay all their employees a living wage. Some 32 employers are signed on to the program, and she’s signing another employer this week. Those employers represent more than 2,000 employees.

“Aside from feeling good about what you’re paying your staff and that they’re able to make a decent living, there’s a number of different benefits to staff. We’ve heard from employers that are a part of living wage programs they report the benefits of greater ease in recruiting employees, they have less staff turnover and employers report they have greater morale and loyalty to their company,” Coleman said.

The living wage differs from minimum wage and basic income models. It’s important for people to not only be able to cover their basic needs with their income, but also feel included in their community.

“We include in our calculation a little bit of money for maybe taking your family out for dinner once in a while or having a modest vacation or staycation. It’s still a very modest wage but we want people to feel that they’re not just living at the poverty line or above the poverty line, but they’re actually included in the community,” Coleman said.

Their employer program works on a level system from “friends” all the way up to “champions.” Companies fall into the categories based on what group of their employees are paid a living wage. It can take a few years for employers to be able to pay all their employees the living wage.

“They can start off at the friend level where they’re considering it and looking at numbers and hoping to be able to pay their staff this amount. And then it goes up from there, starting with all of their full-time staff moving to full and part-time staff, student employees or subcontracted staff. And then the living wage champion level is all staff,” Coleman explained.

Some employers start right at the champion level. She notes one employer who’s currently at the friend level has an implementation plan so that every six months they’re increasing wages in order to get to the leader level within a year.

They started with 10 employers in the program, which was ahead of schedule because that was their goal for after a full year of the program. By 2015 they had 20 employers on board and their goal by next year is to up it to 40.

Mennonite Central Committee is one of the employers taking part of the program.

MCC Ontario executive director Rick Cober Bauman says it was a no-brainer for them to participate.

“It kind of came to a head when we had to get cleaning staff arranged for this building and had some choices to make about whether we would contract it out. We looked at what people were being paid. When we contracted out cleaning we realized that we couldn’t live with that, so we brought our custodial staff onto our staff component of the whole of the organization so that they would get a living wage, get benefits and make sure that they’re not struggling in the same kind of situation that people in our programs that we’re trying to help are struggling in,” Cober Bauman said.

MCC’s main poverty work locally is helping women who are experiencing persistent homelessness, get into and stay housed in affordable housing with strong community supports.

“It didn’t seem consistent to be doing anti-poverty work for people in the broader community and then still having people that we were paying but not paying well,” Cober Bauman said.

Paying a living wage has been associated with higher staff morale and less employee turnover. He’s seen that to be the case at MCC.

“People are staying, they’re part of the staff community, they come to the staff picnic. I think it is good for the organization to be healthy, less divisive. MCC has long had a commitment that we try to keep the gap modest between the lowest and the highest paid in the organization. We put some limits on how big that gap can be. We know that we pay more at entry-level positions than we would need to, but we feel that that’s fair and is healthy for the organization, but also healthy for those families in the community.”

To view how the 2017 living wage was calculated, visit www.livingwagewr.org.

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