FOR THE GAZETTE
The County of Prince Edward could be joining the movement to become a certified living wage employer.
Anne Coleman of the Ontario Living Wage Network explained the benefits to becoming a certified living wage employer at Thursday’s Committee of the Whole meeting.
She said since the provincial employer program launched in 2017, there are now 375 organizations across Ontario who have joined the network.
“Paying a living wage is good for people,” Coleman explained. “When somebody has been earning minimum wage or a low wage and they begin to earn a living wage, they are less stressed; they have improved health and wellbeing.”
That extra income goes back into the local economy, she added.
A living wage for a region is an hourly wage a worker needs to earn to not only cover their basic expenses, but to have a little bit extra to be able to participate in the community, Coleman told council.
Coleman said the 2019 living wage for Prince Edward County was calculated at $17.35 an hour and that the network typically updates the calculation each year, but suspended 2020 calculations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first weekend in November is designated as Living Wage Week, she said, and the calculation for the province will be announced at that point. All living wage employers have up to six months to make necessary wage changes after the announcement, she said.
The calculation takes into consideration food, shelter, transportation, childcare, recreation, after school activities and a modest family camping vacation. Income through taxes and government tax credits such as the child tax credit are also considered before the wage is calculated in any community.
“The goal of the Ontario Living Wage Network is to raise wages in the province and to address poverty through paid work,” Coleman said. “We feel that the best way that we can do that is through our employer certification program.”
Coun. Bill Roberts put forward a motion for council to consider joining the network at a November meeting, prior to budget discussions. The motion carried.
Roberts noted that research across the board shows poverty costs all Canadian taxpayers somewhere between $72 billion and $86 billion per year in terms of healthcare, food insecurity, shelter, police services and social supports.
He added thirty per cent of single parents in the County live in poverty.
“That is a serious number,” he said. “Fifteen per cent of our County households are low income, working poor and living in poverty. That is according to the Vital Signs 2018 report.”
That report also shared the statistic that 2,000 County residents are food insecure.
“I’m hopeful that this motion does exactly what Anne was talking about in bringing awareness to the community and to businesses in the community. That we as a municipality have an ongoing political awareness of the issue of poverty and working poor and the need for a decent, living wage.”
Coleman explained the various levels of support that employers can take part in to support a living wage, saying when an employer is certified, they are committing to paying all direct and indirect employees at least a living wage.
Indirect is related to third-party and contract workers who work for the employer on a regular basis. She said there tends to be ‘pockets’ of low-wage workers in cleaning services, security, food service and landscaping sectors.
The base-level entry is the supporter level, where all direct full-time employees are to earn a living wage.
The leader level accounts for all part-time employees earning a living wage, and the champion level includes third-party employees.
Coun. Phil St. Jean said this is an important first step and that it should start with municipalities leading the way. He asked what the involvement has been from large corporations such as major food chains.
“These tend to be large employers that tend to pay the low average wages,” he said.
St. Jean noted a hiring ad placed by McDonald’s in Picton, offering $15.25 to $16.25 per hour.
“That is significantly below what you are suggesting we should have as a living wage here,” he explained.
Coleman said it has been a challenge to sell the program to major corporations but is hoping to correct that by supporting larger employers and encouraging them to join the network.