British Columbia

As Burnaby moves to pay a living wage, residents say it still won't be enough

Burnaby is the latest city in Metro Vancouver working to become a living wage employer, but residents and city councillors alike say the rate is still not enough for the average family trying to get by.

Shirley Morales earns more than living wage as sole breadwinner for her family of 4 and says she "struggles"

Shirley Morales at work on June 25, where she earns around $25 per hour. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Burnaby is the latest city in Metro Vancouver working toward become a living wage employer, but residents and councillors alike say the rate is still not enough for the average family trying to get by.

On Tuesday, the city said it plans to start paying the living wage to all its staff by Oct. 1. A statement posted online said it hopes to start making living wage a requirement for all external service providers like security, maintenance and traffic personnel.

A living wage, calculated annually, is the amount a working couple with two children would need to earn to afford housing, childcare, transportation and other expenses once taxes and other deductions are taken into account.

The living wage in Metro Vancouver is $19.50 an hour for 2019.

The City of Burnaby is set to become the fourth city in Metro Vancouver to pay all of its staff a living wage. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

Around 350 staff with the city earn less than that, but even residents who make more say they're still wrestling with finances.

Shirley Morales has worked as an accounting assistant for a non-profit in the city for seven years. She makes a little less than $25 an hour as the sole breadwinner in her house, with her husband's health leaving him unable to work. 

She's also mother to two teenage daughters. One is a student and the other works part time. The family only makes ends meet because they live in subsidized housing, she says.

"It's a struggle for me because I'm the only income earner in the family," Morales said Tuesday.

"I'm one of the fortunate people who has been living in affordable housing and am able to raise my kids without thinking of how much I would have to pay every month for rent.

"I'm earning above the living wage allowance but I don't think it's good enough," she added.

Shirley Morales makes more than the calculated living wage for Metro Vancouver and says it's not enough for her family of four. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Burnaby Coun. Sav Dhaliwal agrees $19.50 is still too low for a base minimum.

"We know, for the last few years, wages have not kept up with expenses. Even $19.50 is not enough to pay rents in Burnaby, Vancouver or the Lower Mainland," he said. "Even $20 is not going to to go too far."

Commission seeks to close the gap

This spring, B.C.'s Fair Wage Commission started touring the province seeking input on how to bridge the gap between B.C.'s minimum wage and what people really need to earn to live well.

In May, commission chair Danielle van Jaarsveld said people have told them they still rely on food banks to feed their families or choose to buy food rather than other necessities such as medication, even though they work full-time.

Van Jaarsveld says a formal report from the findings will be presented to government before the end of the year.

With files from Tina Lovgreen

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