Good evening and thank you for having me here to speak to you about the Region of Waterloo’s growing living wage movement.
I’m confident that many of you are familiar with the concept, but for those who aren’t a living wage is the basic hourly wage required for someone to live a life of dignity. The wage is based on the needs of a family of four with two full-time working parents and taking local factors into consideration. The calculation takes into account nine categories for expenses; food, clothing and footwear, shelter, transportation, other family expenditures, child care, medical costs not covered by the government health care plan, adult education/ training and contingencies. With the help of the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) communities across Ontario and Canada have begun calculating their living wages and implementing plans to lift people out of poverty.
Last year several companies and individuals from the area formed Living Wage Waterloo Region (LWWR). It’s a local organization whose mission is to encourage and help employers in our region adjust their pay scales and offer a living wage. LWWR and CCPA Ontario will also calculate a living wage every year in order to continuously adjust for the needs of community members. In the Waterloo Region the living wage is $16 per hour.
LWWR recognizes five levels of commitment to the living wage creedo. “Friends” of the living wage program commit to examining their pay scales within a year; “supporters” pay all their full time employees a living wage; “partners” pay their part time employees that living wage as well; “leaders” add contractors or students to the list; while living wage “champions” provide all direct and indirect employees a living wage. So the Region can easily begin to look at this initiative without “breaking the bank”, it’s just a matter of deciding when and how fast the Region would like to increase its living wage employee base. In fact, I know for a fact most of the people I’m addressing are being paid a living wage and many of you only work in these positions part-time.
In Ontario the minimum wage is $11 per hour. If you work full-time hours at that wage your annual salary puts you over 10% below the poverty line. That is completely unacceptable! Can anyone justly argue that a full-time worker, of any position, deserves to live in poverty? What kind of society surrenders the largest social class to poverty as a matter of policy? Most of them unfortunately, the wrong kind, but that’s beside the point. Unfortunately this council hasn’t got the mandate to raise the minimum wage, but you can do right by your own employees.
Since we’ve identified the $16 living wage, it becomes the responsibility of the employer to address the needs of the employee for a reasonable quality of life. As the official arbitrators of social and economic life in our area, I believe that the Region of Waterloo has a special obligation to set a positive example in our wage scale.
There are many benefits to a living wage policy besides the obvious benefit for employees. Wages paid to employees are usually spent locally making a living wage good for the community at large. A living wage campaign also sets a tone for other discussions. Living wage and minimum wage discussions are complementary. A living wage policy can be good for employers as well, by reducing turnover rates, training and recruitment costs. As one of the largest employers in our area it would be a great benefit for the living wage movement if the Region were to adopt a living wage for its employees.
Paying a living wage would also help align the Region and its employees with the council’s own anti-poverty agenda. To quote the Region of Waterloo Comprehensive Approach to Poverty Reductionreport: "The financial costs of poverty, both direct and indirect, can impact areas such as health care, policing and corrections, and lost potential. The bottom line - we can’t afford poverty."
If this is true the Region certainly can’t afford to pay any employees minimum – or poverty wages.
I would like to officially request the council to prepare a budget proposal item investigating the costs of implementing a living wage policy for all full-time, part-time, student and contract employees.
I would also like to invite the council to contact the chair of the LWWR steering committee, Greg deGroot-Maggetti to ask about the process of becoming a living wage employer.
Thank you for having me here, let me leave you with a few words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.;
“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar.
It comes to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.”
Brayden McNeill, member of the Alliance Against Poverty
For Living Wage Waterloo Region contact information:
519-745-8458 ext. 250