Manitoba

Low wages lead to decline in Winnipeg's 311, library, recreation services: report

The City of Winnipeg is no longer a "gold standard" employer as it struggles to retain and recruit key civic employees due to low wages, a new report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says.

Staff cuts, low wages drive people away from key civic positions, says Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

A green water park feature spraying water is shown in the foreground, with people in bathing suits blurred in the background.
Wading pools and splash pads are some of the city services which are on the decline, according to the new report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The City of Winnipeg is no longer a "gold standard" employer as it struggles to retain and recruit key civic employees due to low wages, according to a new report — and the quality of services provided by 311, libraries and outdoor recreation facilities will decline until changes are made, it says.

"People may have noticed this summer that wading pools were closed, that libraries were reducing their hours and 311 wait times were significantly increased," said Niall Harney, a senior researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and one of the authors of the think tank's report

"These are all results of extremely low wages for those positions."

The city is also struggling to recruit and keep tradespeople, mechanics and librarians — positions that require education and training certifications — because wages for those positions have not remained competitive or in line with the training required, according to the report.

"The City of Winnipeg used to set the standard for high-quality jobs in the city," Harney said in a Wednesday interview. "It is now setting a standard of low-wage, crappy jobs. It's setting a bad example for other employers throughout the city."

CBC has contacted the city for its response.

Since 2010, library staffing dropped 26 per cent and recreation department staffing fell 23 per cent, the report says. While reducing its workforce size can save the city money immediately, the report says short-staffing issues, leading to a decline in the quality of public services, will cost more in the long run.

A reduction in the quality of 311, library and outdoor recreation services particularly affects the quality of life for vulnerable people such as inner-city youth, Harney said, and looks bad in comparison to increased funding for police.

"It points to the fact that the city is not interested in addressing the root issues of crime — these are issues of poverty and social exclusion," he said.

As an example of declining services, the report points to the closure of Happyland Pool in St. Boniface on weekends this summer, which angered residents. The city, which relies on summer students to fill the minimum-wage positions, blamed a lifeguard shortage for the reduced operations.

The report also notes increased wait times for callers to the city's 311 service. Despite efforts to reduce wait times, they rose to 11 minutes in 2021 — a nearly 50 per cent increase over the year before, the CCPA report says.

The entry-level wage for a 311 customer service representative is $14.11 per hour, it says.

A phased-in increase of Manitoba's minimum wage to $15 an hour will boost the paycheques of many civic employees, but the report says even that is no longer a living wage due to inflationary pressures.

Significant action is needed from the city rather than a "blind hope" that the economy will cool down, the CCPA says.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Özten Shebahkeget is a web reporter at CBC Manitoba. She is a member of Northwest Angle 33 First Nation, born and raised in Winnipeg's inner-city. She recently completed the MFA in writing program at the University of Saskatchewan, where she wrote a speculative verse novel set at the Manitoba Legislative Building. You can send feedback, ideas and tips to: ozten.shebahkeget@cbc.ca.

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