The time has come for Surrey to follow the lead of New Westminster and endorse a living wage policy.
A “living wage” is meant to reflect the actual income required for a two-earner, two-child household to live above the poverty line. Adopted at the civic level, it would apply to anyone working for the city. As most city staff are all already above this level, the policy is aimed at independent contractors working for the city.
The living wage policy passed unanimously by New Westminster council last year will see workers paid at least $16.74 per hour. Last month, Esquimalt passed a similar policy, and the municipalities of Cowichan, Williams Lake, and Cranbrook are considering it.
Living wage policies are currently being advocated for by ACORN Canada, the B.C. Federation of Labour, and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the latter having recently calculated that a living wage for families is $18.17 an hour in Vancouver and $17.30 in Victoria.
If Surrey were to do the right thing and endorse such a policy, it would not be the first time.
In 1993, Surrey Civic Electors councillor Gary Robinson and then-mayor Bob Bose were successful in implementing a living wage for the city. At the time, Robinson explained that contractors providing flag services for the city were paying substandard wages to their employees, the majority of whom were women.
Surrey Civic Coalition councillor Bose will table a motion in the next few weeks to Surrey council to revive this idea.
Mayor Dianne Watts’s response thus far has been that she is not inclined to tell businesses what to do, or what not to do.
But there should be unanimous support for reducing poverty amongst families and children in our community, across party lines, as there was on New Westminster council.
A November 3 article by Peter Hall in BCBusiness declares that “living wages send a message of value to employees – and although not free, they are not an overwhelming expense”.
Hall says that annual contract costs in New Westminster are expected to increase by $150,000 or less, about one-tenth of one percent of city revenue. “Even in a recession, that’s a small price to pay to communicate the real value of work,” Hall wrote.
If business leaders understand this, surely Surrey council can too.
Stephanie Ryan is the president of the Surrey Civic Coalition.