New West Newsleader: New West city council adopts living wage bylaw

April 28th, 2010 by A Flemming - New Westminster Newsleader

The Royal City notched up one for the history books on Monday by becoming the first city in Canada to adopt a living wage bylaw.

In a unanimous city council vote, a motion passed that will direct both city employees and contract employees to be paid at or above an hourly wage substantially higher than the current provincial minimum wage.

The term “living wage” is used to describe the minimum hourly wage necessary for a family of four with two parents working full-time to meet the necessities of life. In Metro Vancouver, it is currently calculated to be $16.74 per hour.

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy, who initially brought forward the motion, said the city was especially concerned about child poverty.

“In British Columbia, half of children who are currently living below the poverty line have a parent working full-time,” said McEvoy. “We don’t want to be like Scrooge and have employees struggling to take care of their families. It is the right thing to do.”

“We live in a city that has the lowest average income in the GVRD,” said Coun. Bill Harper. “What we’re doing is setting an example and maybe other cities and corporations will do the same.”

The new bylaw is similar to those taken up in over 140 American cities after a recent campaign by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), whose local chapter turned in a petition to city hall with the signatures of 1200 New West residents supporting the initiative.

“This is pretty historic for Canada,” said BC ACORN organizer John Anderson.”It’s a real precedent setting thing for people who want to see wages go up.”

The City of Calgary recently approved a similar motion but the policy appears to be mostly symbolic because it isn’t extended to on-call or casual workers — the only ones who would have benefited from it.

There is still work to be done in order to figure out how exactly the new policy will be implemented for all city workers, including contractors, and most are already making well above minimum wage anyway. According to a report by city staff, the lowest hourly wage for city workers is $15.40 per hour which, after adding an extra 12 per cent instead of benefits for part-time staff, works out to $17.25 an hour.

British Columbia, the province with the highest cost of living, currently has the lowest minimum wage in the country. It has been frozen since 2001, when the Liberal government kept a campaign promise by raising it to $8 an hour from $7.60 and then promptly created a new lower minimum with a so-called first job wage of $6 an hour for new employees with less than 500 total hours of previous work experience, primarily affecting young workers and recent immigrants.

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