City administration opposes living wage policy for city employees
Expected high costs and increased pressure on taxpayers have pressed Regina city administration to oppose adopting a living wage policy for city employees.
A living wage is the minimum income required to cover basic needs like food, housing, and essentials like clothing.
According to the most recent data from the Living Wage for Families Campaign, the living wage rate for Regina is $16.95 per hour. The minimum wage in Saskatchewan was recently raised to $11.06 per hour.
READ MORE: Sask. minimum wage going up Oct.1
All of the city’s 1,800 permanent full and part-time workers make more than the living wage rate, while 38 per cent of its 1,000 casual and seasonal employees make less. Overall, 86.5 per cent of all city employees are making more than $16.95 per hour.
“The vast majority of employees at the City of Regina make more than a living wage,” Regina Mayor Michael Fougere said. “Our employees are well paid. They have an opportunity to progress through our ranks. The hourly wage we got through collective agreement – they’re not arbitrary.”
Implementing a living wage rate would cost an estimated $1.1 million per year- the equivalent of a 0.5 per cent mill rate increase. Administration cautioned the cost could be higher if the living wage rate increases or vendors raise prices.
Marilyn Braun-Pollon with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said many small businesses CFIB has spoken with are opposed to the policy and the effect it could have on youth employment.
“It would be, at minimum, 7700 youth jobs (lost) in the province as a result of a $15 minimum wage,” Pollon said. “You’re looking at going up to almost $17, which would have an impact on a small businessowner’s ability to create jobs.”
The report also raised concerns about future negotiations with the employee union and equal pay for unequal work.
While American studies have found a living wage policy benefits workers, businesses, and the economy, research in Canada is relatively new.
Early findings suggest living wage employers experience lower rates of staff turnover and sick leave while boosting staff morale and productivity.
It can also help workers rise out of poverty and spend more time with family and friends, but the executive committee felt there were too many unknowns and costs to make it a practical choice for the city.
Councillor Andrew Stevens felt it was a missed opportunity.
“What we’ve seen in small communities, large cities, corporations, is that, yes, the benefits actually outweigh the costs,” Stevens said. “From a management and human resources perspective, there is evidence to believe it actually tames labour cost in the long run.”
The Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry’s Peter Gilmer was also disappointed in the committee’s decision.
“This is a place where the City of Regina could have taken a real leadership role, not just with the province, but also with other city businesses and other municipalities to put upward pressure to improve the lives of low income working people,” Gilmer said.
New Westminster, B.C., was the first Canadian city to implement a living wage policy back in 2011. Cambridge, Quesnel, Port Coquitlam, Parksville and Vancouver have since followed suit. There are ten living wage employers in Saskatchewan, but no municipalities.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says families working for low wages often face impossible choices- like choosing between paying rent or paying for groceries. It adds the result can spur spiraling debt, anxiety and long-term health problems.
City administration’s recommendation will be reviewed at Wednesday’s Executive Committee meeting before being forwarded to the Oct. 29 City Council meeting.
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