British Columbia

City of Vancouver backs away from living wage pledge after council vote in closed meeting

Vancouver has confirmed that it is walking away from its years-long commitment to pay workers a living wage, following a vote in a council meeting that was closed to the public.

Switch to 5-year rolling average comes after sharp jump in living wage sparked by rising cost of living

Suspended workers are pictured repairing lights on the outside of the silver Telus Science World dome on a cloudy day.
City councillors have voted in a closed-door meeting to end Vancouver's commitment to being a certified living wage employer. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Vancouver has confirmed that it is walking away from its years-long commitment to pay workers a living wage following a vote in a council meeting that was closed to the public.

Instead of ensuring employees and contractors are paid the estimated hourly rate two working adults need to support a family of four, as determined by Living Wage for Families B.C. (LWFBC), the city will now pay wages based on a five-year rolling average of the rate.

The decision was made during a closed-door meeting following a sharp jump in the living wage caused by the skyrocketing cost of living in Vancouver.

Anastasia French, the provincial manager for LWFBC, described the move as "incredibly disappointing" and said she was disheartened to learn the vote happened behind closed doors.

"It's vital that anyone working on behalf of the City of Vancouver can afford to live in Vancouver," French said in a statement.

"Their decision to instead pay workers a five-year rolling average goes against the spirit of the living wage. People across the city are struggling to pay for the cost of essentials right now, not the cost of rent or food averaged out from five years ago."

A city spokesperson told CBC in an email that the living wage jumped 17.35 per cent for 2023 to $24.08 per hour and said the annual changes in the rate are "difficult to administer" in a large organization like Vancouver.

"We hope LWFBC will consider this variation in implementation and allow organizations that use this approach to continue to be certified, as we are continuing to use their calculated living wage rate but applying a more practicable approach for large organizations," the email says.

'Working poverty has enormous fiscal implications'

Coun. Christine Boyle, who says she voted against the change in approach, described it as unacceptable.

"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," she said in a written statement.

According to French, the cities of Port Coquitlam, Quesnel and Victoria have all agreed to continue paying workers a living wage, despite this year's big jump in the rates.

"These employers have found that paying a living wage is good for workers, good for business and good for the local community," she said.

"Working poverty has enormous fiscal implications for social programs, health care costs, education, employment, and criminality. Paying workers the living wage is a key solution to solving these issues."

As it stands, the living wage is a conservative estimate. The cost of food only covers basic groceries. Entertainment, extra-curricular activities and unpaid vacations aren't included, and there's no extra for saving money, sending a child to university or retiring with cash in the bank.

The city has been a certified living wage employer for more than five years.

With files from Rhianna Schmunk


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