Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

The living wage in Waterloo Region has increased to $19.95 an hour, according to the latest report from the Ontario Living Wage Network, which represents an increase of $2.75 from 2021.

 

But what impact this hike has on businesses that are certified living wage employers, or those considering a certification, continues to be weighed.

 

“It depends on the nature of the business,” says Jason Dean, Assistant Professor of Economics at King’s University College at Western, who also teaches at Wilfrid Laurier University, and notes that maximizing profits is the key focus of any business. “Any economist would tell you that profit is good in the sense it ensures as a society that our scarce resources are used efficiently, so without profit, we would not have that.”

 

However, Jason says increasing wages can be done in a way that it can boost the bottom line of a business.

 

“In principle, if you do it right, it can be a benefit to business,” he says.

 

Sabrina McGregor, Branch Manager, YNCU in Cambridge, agrees.

 

“By providing a living a wage, we’re helping reduce stress as many have struggled with increased costs,” she says. “Our employees are very important to us; we want to make sure they have the tools to thrive inside and outside of work.”

 

YNCU is one of about a dozen businesses in Cambridge that are certified with the Ontario Living Wage Network, which charges annually between $100 to $1,000 depending on the size of the private sector business. (Lower rates apply for public sector businesses and non-profits).

 

“We want all of our workers to feel empowered by their employer so they can flourish in our communities,” says Sabrina, noting taking this step helps improve health and morale within the workplace.

 

Stephanie Soulis, founder, and CEO of Little Mushroom Catering, which has provided a living wage to employees since 2017, says it’s something that has always fit nicely within her business plan.

 

“When we started out, we knew we wanted to be a socially responsible business in that paying a living wage makes sense. It fits our culture,” she says, adding she does understand why businesses with many part time workers would find it hard to justify an hourly rate of $19.95. “But I’m also one of those businesses. I have a lot of 18-year-olds who work for me and are living at home with their parents, and they still need to pay car insurance and try to save up money so they can move out.”

 

Sabrina says the minimum wage is not a living wage and providing one can help companies save on things like vacant positions, training, and recruitment.

 

“It should be helping with things like retention and talent attraction. We’d like to think it does but there is definitely a labour war going on,” says Stephanie, noting more restaurants and event companies are now paying higher wages. “In the last four or five months we’ve noticed a big shift. But even with the minimum wage being $15.50 and living wage now $19.95, there’s still that middle ground where other restaurants and event companies are going to pay a bit more than minimum wage – say around $17 – so we still have a bit of that leading edge advantage.”

 

As well as attracting more talent, she says being part of a growing network of businesses has resulted in her company being sought ought by others, both in and outside of the network.

 

“We have many companies, especially non-profits, who want to work with us because we are a living wage employer. It’s not just for talent attraction, but client attraction as well,” she says, adding that education is key before any business decides to become a certified living wage employer. “It’s about weighing the pros and the cons.”

 

 

Breaking it down

 

What is a living wage?

 

“There is no universal definition. It is essentially a poverty line with specific characteristics,” says Jason. “Generally, a living wage is the hourly wage that reflects what people would need to earn to cover the actual costs of living in their particular area. A popular definition: A living wage is a socially acceptable level of income that provides adequate coverage for necessities such as food, shelter, child services, and healthcare. The living wage standard allows for no more than 30% to be spent on rent or a mortgage and is sufficiently higher than the poverty level.”

 

Why are businesses hesitant about offering a living wage?

 

“Businesses exist solely to make profit. Which can be a good thing as this is good for society as a whole because it ensures our scarce resources (labour, land, natural resources etc.) are used efficiently which is translates into a higher standard of living,” says Jason. “Many business owners do not believe their goal is to alleviate poverty and would suggest that this is the role of the government. Moreover, most businesses that pay a non-living wage (such as the minimum wage) have narrow margins and probably would not be able to pay a living wage even if they wanted to.”

 

Can increasing the minimum wage to a living wage help alleviate poverty?

 

“Likely not,” says Jason. “It is also important to point out the following statistics from a Fraser Institute Study: 8.8% of all workers earn the minimum wage; 92.3% of minimum wage earners live in households that are above the LICO (Low Income Cutoff); most minimum wage workers are not primary breadwinners: and 53% of all minimum wage workers are between the ages of 15 and 24.”

 

What advice can you offer businesses who are considering about taking this step?

 

“It can be profitable to pay higher wages in an effort to boost productivity and reduce turnover,” says Jason. “Efficiency wages: refer to employers paying higher than the minimum wage to retain skilled workers, increase productivity, or ensure loyalty.”

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