Communities across Canada are embracing Living Wage campaigns

Submitted by Tom Cooper on April 2, 2013 - 8:15am

Following the success of local initiatives in British Columbia (where New Westminster in 2010 became Canada’s first municipality to officially adopt a living wage policy), many other communities are moving forward, building partnerships and calculating a local living wage.

Through the support of national organizations such as Vibrant Communities Canada and the Canada Centre for Policy Alternatives, living wage campaigns are finding a foothold in Canada.  Elsewhere, more than 140 jurisdictions in the United States have adopted living wage policies and the recent London Olympics became the first ‘Games’ where all 130,000 paid employees earned a living wage.

The Ontario branch of the Canada Centre for Policy Alternatives recently hosted a Living Wage ‘think tank’ in Toronto with Michael McCarthy Flynn from the Living Wage for Families campaign in British Columbia.  Michael discussed successes with private sector employers in B.C. and how other communities could share learnings and support one another through their work.

In March, the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board became the first school board in Ontario (the second in Canada) to declare itself a living wage employer.  The board, which teaches 50,000 students in 114 neighbourhood schools, now ensures all full-time, part-time and contracted staff earns Hamilton’s live wage level of $14.95.  Hamilton-area Trustee Alex Johnstone highlighted the importance of the school board’s policy via twitter, noting: “Best way to fight child poverty is to pay mom and dad living wage!”

Later that month, a coalition of community partners through Living Wage Kingston hosted Michael McCarthy Flynn and myself for a town hall discussion on living wage facilitated by Queen’s University political science professor Jonathan Rose. Discussed were the opportunities and challenges our campaigns have faced.  A key message from that town hall was that living wage is a fiscally prudent and economically sound policy for both large and small organizations.  Living wages provide benefits to employers by reducing training costs and lowering absenteeism; as a result, evidence indicates that living wage workplaces are more productive workplaces.

A national living wage framework will be released on April 15th at the Tamarack ‘Cities Gathering’ conference in Toronto.  The development of a national living wage framework provides an important tool to assist local living wage campaigns connect to one another, but also sets out principles and provides a universal guideline to calculate a living wage. 

Vibrant Communities hosts community-of-practice conference calls on living wage. If you would like to participate or learn more, please contact Donna Jean Forster-Gill

Tom Cooper is Director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction - a partner in the Living Wage Hamilton campaign.