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The City of Vancouver is no longer a living wage employer. Here's what that means

It will affect the lowest paid workers the most.
The City of Vancouver is no longer a living wage employer. Here's what that means.

Vancouver City Council has voted to end their living wage policy and people are concerned.

In 2015, under Mayor Gregor Robertson, the City of Vancouver agreed unanimously to become a certified living wage employer, meaning all direct and contract staff at City Hall are paid a minimum hourly rate that allows for two working adults to meet the basic needs of a family of four in the region they live and work in. It does not factor in debt repayments or retirement savings.

The decision came into full effect in 2017 and back then the living wage in Metro Vancouver was $20.62 per hour according to Living Wage for Families (LWF) BC.

The most recent LWF data suggests that the 2023 living wage in the City of Vancouver has gone up to $24.08 per hour.

Certifying as a Living Wage Employer is a voluntary commitment employers make to invest in their communities and local economies. Organizations become certified Living Wage Employers by voluntarily committing to ensuring workers earn a living wage through a combination of base rate and/or other benefits.

Therefore, the decision to renege comes with few consequences for the employer.

In a statement provided to Glacier Media, the city indicated all city staff are compensated above B.C. minimum wage — $15.65 in 2022 — and the vast majority are at or above the recently announced 2023 living wage rate, as are the majority of the city's service providers

The decision will predominately impact workers 'in the most precarious and lowest-paid positions'

OneCity Councillor Christine Boyle released a statement this week criticizing council’s decision, saying: “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.”

A sentiment echoed by the Vancouver and District Labour Council (VDLC) which released a statement expressing “its dismay at the City of Vancouver’s closed-door decision to walk away from its commitment to operate as a living wage employer.”

“This is a disappointing decision which will predominately impact those workers in the most precarious and lowest paid positions,” says VDLC President, Stephen von Sychowski who also takes issue with council's lack of public consultation.

According to von Sychowski, cleaners, security guards, maintenance staff, and other non-union workers will be hit hardest by this decision. “These workers rely on the living wage policy as their guarantee of a raise to help keep up with the rapidly accelerating cost of living,” he says.

The majority of councillors (specific names cannot be shared) voted to end the living wage policy but Boyle, VDLC, and LWF are all imploring the city to reconsider.

“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,” says Boyle.

On the contrary, "Mayor [Ken Sim] and his team ran on a platform of affordability,” says Anastasia French, Provincial Manager of LWF BC, in a statement expressing her disappointment with the City of Vancouver. “And the rising cost of living underscores how paying a Living Wage is more important than ever. People across the city are struggling with rising rents and growing grocery bills. It’s vital that anyone working on behalf of the City of Vancouver can afford to live in Vancouver.”

Asked at a news conference earlier this week about the status of the living wage policy, Sim said: "We're committed to making sure that the City of Vancouver is competitive in terms of wages, benefits and work environment. And so what we need to do is look at these things holistically, and it's our goal to be a best employer…and we will do everything we can to be a best employer."

You can find a list of certified living wage employers in B.C. here.

With files from Mike Howell