Why some companies pay their staff a living wage, not just the minimum

At Massy Books in Vancouver, staff enjoy sick leave, benefits and wages based on the cost of living in one of the most expensive cities in the country.

“I’m responsible for paying someone a salary that will allow them to pay their bills and support their family,” said Patricia Massy, ​​owner of the Indigenous-owned and operated bookstore specializing in books. works by underrepresented authors.

Massy Books is one of a growing number of companies and organizations that have pledged to become what are known as living wage employers – pledging to pay wages commensurate with the costs of things like rent, food, transportation and child care in the area where they live.

The store was recently certified by Living Wages for Families BC, one of many advocacy groups across Canada advocating for living wages. There are similar groups in Alberta and Ontario – and a spokesperson for the Ontario Living Wage Network says more than 400 businesses and organizations in the province have pledged to pay more than minimum wage.

“Employers want to know they’re not keeping their employees in working poverty,” said Craig Pickthorne.

WATCH | Patricia Massy explains why she decided to better pay her staff:

Why a bookstore decided to pay its staff more

Patricia Massy, ​​owner of Massy Books in Vancouver, says she feels responsible for her workers.

Minimum wage vs living wage

The living wage is calculated by determining how much a person in a given municipality needs to earn per hour to meet essential living costs – and still be above the poverty line, with a chance of social mobility.

It means “enough money to put aside, say, to go to school, to get a better job, to enable them to get a better income, or to put money aside to start a business” , said Minh Nguyen of the Montreal think tank. reservoir Institute for socio-economic research and information (IRIS).

Although the minimum wage is increasing in some provinces, Nguyen said he sees the gap widening between these new numbers and the living wage. In Montreal, Nguyen’s 2021 report calculated the living wage at $18 an hour, while the minimum wage in Quebec is currently $13.50. Paying the higher living wage, Nguyen said, would help a lot of workers.

“They have to think about how to get to the end of the month,” he said. “If they actually earned a living wage, they would have more freedom. They could have more lightness in their lives. They could think about the future.”

Employers, organizations, and unions use Nguyen’s annual calculation to determine employee wages or lobby employers for better wages.

Nguyen acknowledges that living wages will cost businesses more, but envisions a gradual transition to higher wages, using government subsidies to help businesses get by.

Yann Mailhot-Héroux, a school worker with Perspectives Jeunesse in Montreal, says that earning a decent salary allows him to feel recognized by his employer. (Alison Northcott/CBC)

At Perspectives Jeunesse, a Montreal-based nonprofit focused on preventing teens from dropping out of school, the living wage calculation is used to determine employee wages, said executive director Louis-Philippe Sarrazin.

If I can’t pay the staff properly, there’s no point in having a store.- Patricia Massy, ​​bookseller– Patricia Massy, ​​bookseller

“When you pay people [a living wage] they feel more comfortable,” he said. “You will keep them, you can develop them and grow the business with them.

Yann Mailhot-Héroux, a school worker with Perspectives Jeunesse, says he has left similar jobs in the past due to problems with pay and working conditions. But the higher pay, benefits, and sick days make him want to stay where he is now.

“When you don’t get paid, you don’t get recognized by your employer, and you get paid minimum wage, it affects not only your mental health, but also your motivation to go to work,” he said. declared.

Are higher wages the answer?

But some say raising wages is not the most effective way to reduce the impact of poverty.

Ian Lee, associate professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, said a living wage paid by a handful of companies and organizations is not a sustainable approach.

Lee said governments have the power and the tools to create targeted social policies, such as a guaranteed annual income, to help those who need it most.

“Trying to raise wages [for] small businesses that already have very small profit margins and have high failure rates, I don’t think that’s the way to go,” he said.

For Massy, ​​however, it’s worth the extra cost. She sees it as a way to recruit and retain employees, while ensuring the solidity of her business.

“If I can’t pay staff properly, there’s no point in having a store,” she said.

One of Massy’s employees, Jana Rankov, 24, said she would like the government to adopt policies that address high food and housing costs, but sees a living wage as a measure that will help her. makes you feel valued.

“There’s no feeling of being disposable,” she said.

Michael A. Bynum