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Orleans EMC: City to study living wage policy, - ACORN Canada

Orleans EMC: City to study living wage policy,

Posted February 11, 2010

City council decided last week to proceed with a study into the proposed living wage policy. The policy would raise the wage of city contract employees from minimum wage to $13.50 an hour. The proposal came through the work of ACORN, a community based association that advocates for the rights of disadvantaged citizens across the country.

While the provincial minimum wage will jump from $9.50 to $10.25 an hour at the end of March, a “living wage,” would assist the city’s working poor. For many, the association has said, it would mean removing tough decisions like whether to pay for accommodation, food or other basic needs.

The policy was separated from the city’s overall poverty reduction strategy, which was also approved by councillors last week. Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans introduced the motion to divide the items when some councillors expressed concern over the wage policy.

In introducing division, Coun. Diane Deans explained that proponents of the living wage policy were, “not seeking a council decision today on a living wage,” but merely wanted city staff to go off and study the issue and report back in a timely manner.

City council decided last week to proceed with a study into the proposed living wage policy. The policy would raise the wage of city contract employees from minimum wage to $13.50 an hour. The proposal came through the work of ACORN, a community based association that advocates for the rights of disadvantaged citizens across the country.

While the provincial minimum wage will jump from $9.50 to $10.25 an hour at the end of March, a “living wage,” would assist the city’s working poor. For many, the association has said, it would mean removing tough decisions like whether to pay for accommodation, food or other basic needs.

The policy was separated from the city’s overall poverty reduction strategy, which was also approved by councillors last week. Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans introduced the motion to divide the items when some councillors expressed concern over the wage policy.

In introducing division, Coun. Diane Deans explained that proponents of the living wage policy were, “not seeking a council decision today on a living wage,” but merely wanted city staff to go off and study the issue and report back in a timely manner.

Opposition to the policy noted that the measure would be much more costly for the city, with some councillors suggesting the taxation system, which targets higher income earners for a larger portion of the tax bill, should take care of those earning less.

“I understand it is just research and looking up options,” said Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Steve Desroches. “I think this would add cost to the City of Ottawa.”

Bay ward Coun. Alex Cullen, who has worked with ACORN to promote the policy, said he was surprised that councillors were debating a policy that would benefit the city’s most vulnerable.

“I shouldn’t think that my colleagues around this table would be so fearful of having a discussion about this,” he said. “This idea is worth exploring more. We need to have more research before we proceed.”

Coun. Cullen pointed out that about 120,000 people live below the poverty line in Ottawa and that about 50,000 of those people earn only minimum wage.

“They are not on welfare or ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) recipients…They are working people.”

He also pointed out that the average rent for a two bedroom apartment in Ottawa costs about $940, explaining that the cost exceeds the means of two people living on minimum wage.

“I cannot believe that we would not contemplate holding a debate,” he said.

“You really can’t live on minimum wage. I don’t know how they do it every day,” said Ward 2 (Innes) City Councillor Rainier Bloess. But he noted that if “you change the minimum wage, you wipe out some of those jobs,” since some businesses may not be able to afford to pay their workers the higher rate. He added that he wanted to see the facts on the living wage before passing judgment on it.

Merivale-Knoxdale Coun. Gord Hunter argued that council should extend support to the majority of recommendations in the poverty reduction report, noting that many were “common sense” issues.

However, he said, the matter of living wage should not be dealt with municipally, as the provincial government sets minimum wage standards.

Of the 16 recommendations in the report, “I think, around the council table, we have broad support for 14 of (the recommendations),” said Ward 9 (Knoxdale-Merivale) City Councillor Gord Hunter. He noted that some of the recommendations were “common sense,” and “if we haven’t done those in the past, then we should have our hands rapped,” for not having acted upon them sooner. But his main opposition to the living wage proposal was that “this is not an area of municipal responsibility or jurisdiction…It is the provincial government’s responsibility to set the minimum wage. We don’t need a third level of government involved.”

Ward 19 (Cumberland) City Councillor Rob Jellett echoed Coun. Hunter’s point of view, stating that “this is not our responsibility. It is the provincial government’s role. I don’t think we should proceed further.”

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Georges Bedard told councillors at the meeting that they should consider the positive effect this policy could have on Ottawa residents.

“I know that there are some people around this council who would rather build roads than help poor people,” he said “I represent the poorest area of the City of Ottawa. I see the suffering they go through on a daily basis.”

He urged councillors to look beyond the jurisdictional matter, and help those who need it most.

Barrhaven resident Michelle Walrond said she was not surprised with the debate that took place, but added that she hopes the study process can help convince the concerned councillors of the policy’s benefits.

“I really am optimistic,” she said. “We’ve already demonstrated that there is no harm to the city or business. All of the benefits outweigh any detractions.”

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