Committing to a ‘living wage’

Employers encouraged to pay workers income necessary for region

Living Wage - Joshua Awolade online
Graphic by Joshua Awolade

The Living Wage Employer Recognition Program launched in Waterloo Region on Nov. 4, highlighting employers who have committed to paying their employees what is considered to be a living wage.

Living wage is the minimum income necessary to meet the needs of living in a community, such as housing, food, clothing and other necessities.

“We put out the invitation for employers in the region to step up and participate in the program and get recognized as living wage employers,” said Greg deGroot-Maggetti, chairperson of the Living Wage Waterloo Region steering committee.

These employers can be from either the public or the private sector. The program is also meant to encourage more employers to pay their workers the living wage in Waterloo.

According to a report that was released several weeks ago, the living wage in Waterloo is at a rate of $16 per hour.

This does not include any extra benefits, such as healthcare or life insurance. If benefits were included, the living wage may be reduced in the region.

The launch of the program took place from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Mennonite Central Committee building.

The program functions by aligning companies with specific levels that describe how many employees are being paid a living wage.

The first level is the friend level, where the employer may not be paying a living wage, however they support the principle of a living wage by making a commitment to begin to move the company in that direction.

Next on the scale is the supporter level, where the employer pays their full-time employee a living wage rate, but may not pay all their part-time employees, students or contract employees a living wage.

Following this is the partner level, where an employer pays all their full-time and part-time workers a living wage, and makes a commitment in paying any contract workers and students a living wage.

The leader level is the second to the top, allowing all full-time, part-time, contract and student workers to get paid a living wage.

“The highest level is living wage champion, so that would be everybody who works for the organization, direct employees and indirect employees, including students get paid a living wage,” explained deGroot-Maggetti.

There are several benefits that accompany employers paying their workers a living wage. For instance, employers who pay a living wage notice there is less employment turnover.

Reduced turnover facilitates less absenteeism, as well as an increased rate of retention and productivity amongst employees. Employers are also able to save money on rehiring and retraining this way.

According to deGroot-Maggetti, a wide range of businesses such as non-profit organizations, financial services, industrial organizations, construction companies and environmental consulting firms have already been in contact with Living Wage Waterloo Region.

Some of the organizations who have joined the program so far, according to Living Wage Waterloo Region’s Twitter account, are United Way KW and Brick & Co., along with MCC Ontario.

This week is also Living Wage Week in Canada and the United Kingdom, an initiative that originally started in the 1990s.

“The problem was that there are so many jobs where the pay has deteriorated, so the living wage is an effort to try and improve the pay for those positions,” deGroot-Maggetti explained.

As a result, there has been an effort to identify what it really costs to live in different communities in order to promote jobs that pay a living wage.

DeGroot-Maggetti said the program has also been launched in Hamilton and has been a success so far.

He believes that most employers in Waterloo are paying a living wage, however problems tend to arise for service workers, such as cleaning, food or security services.

“It really is a win, win, win,” he said.

“It is good for families, it is good for employers and it is good for the community.”

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