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From living wage to fair wage: New West eyes a fair wage policy

As Canada's first living wage city, New Westminster has now set its sights on a fair wage policy
New Westminster City Hall
New Westminster city council will consider a fair wage policy for the city.

The City of New Westminster was a leader in introducing a living wage policy in Canada – and now it will consider following the lead of other cities by adopting a fair wage policy.

On Jan. 1, 2011, the City of New Westminster became the first municipal government in Canada to become a living wage employer, after approving a living wage policy. That occurred after council approved a motion from Coun. Jaimie McEvoy.

Now, Mayor Patrick Johnstone would like the city to follow the lead set by some municipalities that have adopted fair wage policies to ensure that no contractor or sub-contractors working for the city get an unfair advantage paying lower than fair market wages for skilled workers.

A motion by Johnstone states that New Westminster is committed to affordability for working people, and ensuring fair and household-supporting wages are paid for all work performed by or on behalf of the city.

“We are a leader in the living wage policy. We were the first city to bring it in, and other municipalities have brought them,” he said. “I think that the fair wage policy is something that we would add to this. It augments this and it also addresses our commitment to affordability for working people in the community.”

At its Sept. 11 meeting, council unanimously approved Johnstone’s motion to have staff report back to council outlining a process to adopt a fair wage policy, similar to that of Burnaby or the City of North Vancouver.

Johnstone said he’s had conversations with Linda Buchanan, the mayor of the City of North Vancouver, and Mike Hurley, the mayor of Burnaby, about the success of the fair wage policies in their communities. He said they don’t feel that it has increased costs.

“They actually believe it provides them with a stronger procurement position and allows them to make sure that they are procuring the highest quality of contractors when they do have contractors,” he said.

Coun. Daniel Fontaine questioned whether the staff report would provide information about the financial ramification and potential operational considerations, so council has a fulsome understanding of the economic and financial ramifications. Lisa Spitale, the city’s chief administrative officer, confirmed that information would be included in the report to council.

The second part of the motion approved by council would be to have Johnstone take a motion to the board of Metro Vancouver, on behalf of New Westminster city council, requesting that fair wage and living wage policies be developed and adopted by the regional government.

“I think that it is important that the regional government also become a living wage and fair wage employer, especially considering that it’s us as local governments who pay their wages at Metro Vancouver and pay for those projects,” Johnstone said. “So, I think it’s relevant to us.”

What’s a fair wage?

At the time the City of New Westminster introduced its policy in 2011, the living wage was $16.74 an hour, at a time when B.C.'s minimum wage was $8 an hour. The minimum wage is now $16.75 per hour and a living wage in Metro Vancouver is now considered to be $24.08 per hour.

The City of New Westminster’s living wage policy applies to city employees as well as people working for sub-contractors that are performing services on city premises.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees has outlined the differences between minimum, living and fair wages:

  • Minimum wages are the lowest wage employers can legally pay workers according to legislation or contract. Minimum wages vary between provinces and territories.
  • Fair wages are minimum wage rates for specific occupations, which must be paid by contractors doing work for governments with fair wage policies. These policies generally apply to construction, trades and sometimes cleaning and security workers, and are often tied to union wage rates. 
  • A living wage is the wage needed to provide the minimum income necessary to pay for basic needs based on the cost of living in a specific community.

According to Living Wage for Families BC, a living wage, a calculation based on a two-parent family with two children, is considered to be the hourly amount a family needs to cover the basics, including food, clothing, shelter, transportation and child care.