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Aiming for more than just the minimum

Block Three Brewing in St. Jacobs is one of the newest employers to join the Ontario Living Wage Network, ensuring that staff are paid at a rate commensurate with the cost of living in the area.

Beyond the minimum wage the Ontario Living Wage Network (OLWN) advocate for a wage that reflects what people need to earn to cover the actual costs of living in their community. The living wage draws on community-specific data to determine the expenses to a family with two working adults and two children.

Living wage employers such as Block Three voluntarily opt to pay a living wage and maintain their certification as new rates are calculated for their area. In Waterloo Region, last calculated in 2019, the living wage is $16.35 per hour.

The first calculation for Living Wage in Ontario was made in 2007. Over the past 14 years, the movement has grown, calling for employers to pay workers enough to support themselves and their families in accordance with the local cost of living.

OLWN was formed to centralize the movement and create a standardized approach in the province, says spokesperson Craig Pickthorne.

“We all decided to coordinate our efforts and have a standardized calculation, and also to recognize employers that range across the province all in one place,” he explained of OLWN’s formation.

Four key factors go into determining the living wage for a particular region, he said:  childcare costs, housing (for a three-bedroom rental), transportation and food costs. The calculation also takes into account costs such as clothing, hydro, internet access and mobile phone plans.

For Waterloo Region the $16.35 per hour was calculated based on an average annual cost of $17,130 for childcare, split between two children ages three and seven; $15,048 for housing (for a three-bedroom apartment); $8,219 for transportation; $8,858 in other expenses that include recreation, modest vacation, laundry, household items; $3,630 for clothing; $3,462 for medical expenses; $1,237 for hydro; $1,085 for phone; $1,119 for education; $1,001 for internet access. Altogether, that works out to $71,205 in annual expenses.

Looking at the numbers, joining the OLWN just made sense, said Block Three co-founder Graham Spence.

“The reason is simple: we have always paid our staff above minimum wage.  I think the pandemic has shown people the issues a lot of people face on a daily basis, and if we can even be a small part of a system where workers are compensated fairly, it made sense to us.”

An updated calculation to local living expenses will be released in November, said Pickthorne, who expects the rate will increase given the skyrocketing housing market, big increase in food prices, and costs associated with the ongoing pandemic that have made things more difficult.

“I think that we signed on 125 [businesses] since the pandemic. And it’s more important now than ever, I think, that people recognize that we need to do more – working poverty is just unacceptable, and especially during a pandemic,” he said.

“I ask people, how do they find this? Why are they becoming a certified living wage employer? They find things like turnover rates decrease, but they also say, ‘look, this is not the time that I want to be paying working poverty wages at all – I want to make sure that I’m a key part of the community as we’re going through this together.’

“It’s not looking towards government policy, or just minimum wage that’s set and then kept there. It’s a live calculation that makes sure that if you work full-time, you can actually make ends meet and participate in your community.”

For information on the Ontario Living Wage Network, including a list of employers here in the region, click here.

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