Wages vs. inflation: As costs rise, living wage advocates hope to see B.C. better address affordability

With Canada’s inflation rate hitting a 31-year high last month, people are paying a lot more for many basic needs including food and shelter, and wages have not kept up.

While B.C.’s minimum wage is set to rise next month, some living wage advocates want to see the province do more to address affordability.

For over two years now, Surrey-based power washing and cleaning company Revive Services has been a certified living wage employer. Owner and founder David Moerman said it’s helped them with recruiting and retaining employees.

“It’s getting more expensive to live here as the weeks go by, so as a business owner, I want to ensure my team is taken care of, they can pay for their fuel, pay for their groceries,” he said of his 10-person team. “If they’re not happy and taken care of outside of work, they’re not going to be the best version of themself at work, so I want to make sure they’re not stressed out financially.”

Last month, Canada’s inflation rate rose to 6.8 percent from the previous April, while average hourly wages rose 3.3 percent year over year, according to Statistics Canada.

Living Wage for Families B.C. organizer Anastasia French says the current living wage calculated for Metro Vancouver is $20.52 an hour.

“It takes into account all of the costs that a family of four has, so that’s the cost of shelter, the cost of food, child care, really the essentials,” she said.

“We’ve now nearly got 400 living wage employers across the province, which has doubled within the two years of the pandemic.”

B.C.’s minimum wage is set to rise to $15.65 cents an hour on June 1, which is the highest rate among the provinces. The increase is based on last year’s average annual inflation rate.

“On one level, any increase to the minimum wage is good,” French said. “But there is still that significant gap between the minimum wage and the living wage.”

The province has been gathering feedback on that gap, and Labour Minister Harry Bains is now waiting on a report from the Fair Wages Commission, which he said had been delayed by the pandemic.

“It should be in my hands soon,” Bains said. “And I think we will learn from that report what do we do between the living wage and the minimum wage.”

Senior policy analyst with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business Jairo Yunis said imposing more costs on small businesses could end up hurting employment.

“We acknowledge the cost of living in B.C. has skyrocketed in the last few years, but there are better ways to tackle the affordability crisis that don’t involve piling up all these costs to small businesses,” he said. “What the government can do to tackle inflation and tackle the affordability crisis should be to ease some of the supply side constraints that are partially fuelling the problem especially for instance in energy markets and housing.”

Yunis added just 46 per cent of small businesses in the province are back at their normal revenue level since the pandemic, “so we’re not out of the woods yet.”

French said her group also wants to see the government do more to address overall affordability, so that at some point the living wage could potentially come down.

“We know that the majority of families that are living in poverty in B.C. and across Canada are working, and they’re working really, really hard to try and make ends meet,” she said.

“Maybe you can’t reach all the way to the living wage right now…maybe bring your staff up slightly this year and then slightly more next year. Also it’s worth stressing that the living wage can be made up of both base wage and any additional benefits that you offer. So if you have a health and dental plan, that lowers your living wage by about a dollar an hour…if you offer any additional paid time off beyond the statutory minimums or any additional paid sick leave beyond the five days or vacation beyond the ten days, that can go towards your living wage requirements.”

French said their next living wage calculation will be made in November. Employers that are

part of the program have six months to bring workers up to the latest level in order to be certified.