City of Burnaby increases living wage rate

The city has adopted the Living Wage for Families calculation of $25.68 per hour as its lowest wage rate

During its Dec. 11, 2023 meeting, Burnaby City Council voted unanimously to adopt the 2023 living wage rate of $25.68 per hour. The Living Wage for Families BC campaign, part of the Vancity Community Foundation, has calculated living wage rates in the province since 2008. Since becoming a living wage employer in January 2020, Burnaby has continued to keep up with increases due to inflation. Burnaby offers living wages to all its employees and contracted workers. 

“I’m glad to support raising the living wage,” Coun. Joe Keithley said during the meeting. “Times are tough out there.” 

In early March 2023, the City of Vancouver voted to end its living wage certification, opting for its Fair Wage Program, which gives employees and contractors a minimum of $21.86 per hour, $3.82 lower than the Lower Mainland’s living wage

“We saw last year that, unfortunately, the City of Vancouver walked away from their commitment. The City of Surrey has not made that commitment, that’s why we’re really grateful and glad that municipalities like the City of Burnaby are stepping up and doing the right thing,” Anastasia French, provincial manager for Living Wage for Families BC, told the Beacon.  

“The living wage did go up by a lot, which presented additional challenges. The City of Vancouver decided that they weren’t going to ensure that their workers earn a living wage, which was really disappointing, and we hope that one day they will rethink that decision,” French added. 

Infographic image of the living wage calculation. Photo: Living Wage for Families BC

Living Wage for Families partners with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and calculates how much a worker needs to afford essentials like food and rent while working only one full-time job and enjoying enough time outside work to spend with their families. The calculation is based on a family of four individuals, with two parents and two children, and both parents working full-time. As of June 1, 2023, the BC minimum wage is $16.75 per hour, $8.93 lower than the living wage. However, if employers offer a complete health and dental plan, the living wage drops to around $23 per hour instead of $25.68. Living Wage for Families has an online calculator for employers to calculate the value of employer-provided benefits.       

According to French, workers making minimum wage “have to make extremely difficult choices every day. Do they cut back on essentials? Do they work additional hours and take on additional jobs?” She added that when workers have multiple jobs, this reduces personal time they would otherwise spend with their families or in their communities. “Sometimes they have to do both. They cut back, and they’re working additional hours. So it is really challenging right now for so many of those workers,” French said. She added that workers making minimum wage are more likely to be women, people of colour, Indigenous or immigrants. “All the groups of workers already experiencing discrimination in lots of ways. This is just another form of discrimination, the wage inequity that they get.” 

French said the two leading causes of the gap between the minimum and living wages are housing affordability and food prices. 

“What we need is further action on housing affordability; anything that can be done to try to lower the cost of housing will really make such a difference to the living wage. We also need to see governments stepping up and continuing to lift the minimum wage and also see what they can do about food affordability.” While the Metro Vancouver living wage rate is the highest of any city in BC, it is not the highest in the province. That dubious distinction goes to Tofino and the rest of Clayoquot Sound due to tourism, the prevalence of short-term rentals and the prioritization of short-term rentals over long-term rentals. 

“I hear from business owners all the time that they want to hire, but they can’t find staff who can afford to live in the communities,” said French. 

Around 400 employers across the province have pledged to pay their employees a living wage as partners of the Living Wage for Families campaign. French said the campaign attempts to bring together workers, municipalities, unions and businesses to find solutions that benefit all groups. 

“We’re already beginning to see that worst-case scenario; the reality is that food banks are seeing a 30% increase in demand, and at the same time, they’re getting less money. People are turning to food banks, rent banks, and charities to support them and stop them from becoming homeless and on the streets,” French said. “A lot of these people are working, and they’re working really hard. All they want to do is put a roof over their heads and provide for their families. Because life is so expensive right now, it’s getting harder and harder to do that.”

This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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