The idea of paying what’s considered a “living wage” to all employees hired by the City of Regina was voted down on Wednesday.
The city’s executive committee voted against a mandatory wage of $16.95 per hour, which was determined to be a living wage for a family of two working parents with two children, by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Councillor Andrew Stevens was the only member who wanted the change.
The living wage would apply to all city employees and anyone contracted for work by the city. Currently, all of the city’s permanent employees earn more than the living wage. However, there are 379 casual employees, who work 300 hours per year or less who earn below the living wage.
Mayor Michael Fougere said the city is a good employer and isn’t paying its employees the bare minimum.
“Every salary is above minimum wage here,” Fougere said. “Our employees are well-paid.”
The report showed it would cost the city approximately $1.1 million to pay city and contract workers a living wage. It would also have to be paid for through property tax, with a mill rate increase of at least 0.5 per cent.
There were also questions surrounding procurement and dictating the wage required to be paid by an employer bidding to do work for the city.
There are six municipalities across Canada that have adopted a living wage policy, with New Westminster, B.C. being the first in 2011.
Peter Gilmer, an advocate with the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry, spoke in favour of a living wage. He argued it would help reduce the wage gap between women and men, boost spending in the local economy and create a ripple effect, inspiring other employers to follow suit.
“This would have been a good starting point to create that ripple that would raise wages for other low-income working people,” Gilmer said.
It was the opposite view of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), which is pleased with the decision not to move forward with a living wage.
Marilyn Braun-Pollon is vice-president, Prairie and Agri-business with CFIB. She said they surveyed members on the idea of a living wage and 74 per cent of small business owners oppose the policy.
“What they’d have to do is either raise prices, which many of them can’t, cut back fewer hours, not hire the entry-level position,” Braun-Pollon said.
She claimed the majority of small business owners already pay well above minimum wage and said there’s a misconception that a living wage will allow business owners to create jobs.
Braun-Pollon argued there’s a need for entry-level positions, mostly held by 15 to 24-year-olds.
“The best social policy is a job,” she said.
Mayor Fougere said income redistribution and social policies like the minimum or living wage are not city issues and belong at the provincial and federal level.
The only member of the city’s executive committee to speak in favour of the living wage disagrees.
“This notion that we shouldn’t be or we can’t or maybe this is beyond our jurisdiction, that’s patently false,” said Councillor Andrew Stevens, pointing to the six other municipalities in Canada, along with others in the U.S. and Britain.
Stevens said he didn’t see enough in the report about the positive social and community benefits of a living wage.