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Living Wage in BC: Higher Cost of Living Is a Challenge for Many Workers

In British Columbia, the pursuit of a living wage has become a prominent societal concern. As the cost of living continues to rise and economic conditions evolve, there is a growing awareness of the need to ensure that workers earn enough to cover their basic needs. 

This article delves into the concept of living wage in BC, examines the current state of affairs, explores the challenges faced by both employees and employers, and discusses the potential paths forward for achieving fair compensation in the province.

What Is a Living Wage?

A living wage is defined as the hourly rate at which a household can meet its basic needs, taking into account government transfers, such as federal and provincial child benefits, and deductions like income taxes and Employment Insurance premiums.

The living wage in BC is determined by considering expenses in 10 categories. These include food, clothing and footwear, shelter, phone and internet, transportation, other household and social participation expenses, child care, non-MSP health expenses, parent education, and a contingency amount. 

The calculation is tailored for a typical family consisting of two parents with two children aged four and seven, with both adults working full-time for 35 hours per week. 

It is important to note that the living wage excludes certain financial aspects like credit card payments, retirement savings, children’s education funds, caring for disabled, ill, or elderly family members and expenses beyond minimal recreation. It’s tailored for a family’s essential needs, emphasizing the importance of fair compensation for a decent standard of living.

Workers Rights in BC

British Columbia has established a robust labour law framework to safeguard employees rights. The Employment Standards Act outlines provisions related to minimum wage, working hours, overtime pay, vacation entitlements, and other fundamental aspects of employment. Additionally, workers are entitled to a safe and healthy working environment under occupational health and safety regulations.

Workers in British Columbia have the right to join or form trade unions to collectively bargain for better working conditions, wages, and benefits. The Labour Relations Code governs the relationships between employers, employees, and unions, ensuring a fair and balanced approach to labour relations.

WorkSafe BC plays a crucial role in ensuring workplace safety. It is responsible for enforcing occupational health and labour safety regulations and providing compensation to workers who suffer workplace injuries. Workers have the right to a safe workplace, and WorkSafe BC plays a pivotal role in upholding this right.

Employee protection laws safeguard against unfair firings or insufficient severance compensation. Upon termination or permanent layoffs, you’re generally entitled to severance pay based on your tenure. If you feel you have been treated fairly, you can contact labour boards or employment lawyers.

Despite all of these rights for employees, there is still no right to a fair living wage in British Columbia.

Current State of Affairs in BC

The province of British Columbia has witnessed a significant increase in the cost of living, particularly in cities like Vancouver where housing costs have skyrocketed. While BC has set its minimum wage higher than the national average, critics argue that it still falls short of providing a genuine living wage.

As of June 1, 2023, British Columbia’s minimum wage stands at $16.75 per hour, and discussions about potential increases are ongoing. In contrast, the living wage in Metro Vancouver is $25.68$ per hour for 2023, marking an increase of 6.6% from last year. You can use a salary to hourly pay calculator to convert your annual salary into an hourly wage.

The Living Wage for Families BC Provincial Manager, Anastasia French, says that the living wage is insufficient for a single parent, and the $25.68 hourly rate covers only essential expenses, excluding items like retirement savings, debt repayment, or vacations.

Over the last two years, French notes a substantial growth in the gap between B.C.’s minimum wage and the living wage. In Metro Vancouver, the gap is now nearly $9 per hour.

A substantial hike in the minimum wage is essential to bridge the gap between the current minimum and the actual cost of living in BC.

Challenges Faced by Employees

Workers in BC encounter various challenges in their pursuit of a living wage. One of the primary obstacles is the rising cost of housing. Vancouver, in particular, has consistently ranked among the most expensive cities to live in globally, making it increasingly difficult for individuals and families to secure affordable housing.

Transportation costs also add to the financial burden, especially for those residing in areas with limited public transportation options. Additionally, healthcare expenses and the overall cost of living continue to strain the budgets of many workers, even as the economy experiences growth.

Challenges Faced by Employers

On the flip side, employers in British Columbia face their own set of challenges when it comes to providing a living wage. Small businesses, in particular, may struggle to absorb the increased costs associated with higher wages, health benefits, and vacation pay. This can lead to concerns about job losses, reduced hours, or potential closures, particularly in industries with narrow profit margins.

In addition, some argue that implementing a living wage could result in an increased cost of goods and services, impacting consumers. Striking the right balance between fair compensation for employees and maintaining the viability of businesses is a delicate task that requires thoughtful consideration and collaboration.

Despite these challenges there are dozens of employers, even in Metro Vancouver, who have successfully implemented a living wage policy.  These employers are finding that competitive, fair wages are enabling them to have greater success in a tight job market in hiring and retaining quality employees

Progress and Initiatives

There have been notable initiatives and progress in the pursuit of a living wage. Various municipalities within the province have implemented living wage policies, ensuring that their employees and contractors receive compensation that aligns with the local cost of living.

Moreover, advocacy groups and workers unions have been actively pushing for legislative changes to address income inequality. The awareness surrounding the importance of fair wages has grown, prompting conversations at both the community and governmental levels.

Potential Paths Forward

To achieve a living wage in BC, collaboration between the government, businesses, and the workforce is crucial. Potential pathways include:

  • Incremental Minimum Wage Increases: Phased hikes help businesses adapt, ensuring alignment with economic realities through regular reviews.
  • Support for Small Businesses: Targeted assistance, like tax incentives, aids small businesses in managing increased wages, contingent on their commitment to a living wage.
  • Affordable Housing Initiatives: Addressing the housing crisis is essential, with investments in affordable housing projects and private sector collaboration providing sustainable solutions.
  • Social Responsibility: Incentivizing fair wages through public recognition, certifications, or preferential treatment in government procurement encourages socially responsible practices.
  • Public-Private Partnerships: Collaborations foster innovative solutions, enabling collective responsibility and resource pooling to address challenges in achieving a living wage.

Short Term Problems

While both employees and employers struggle to move towards a more balanced living wage system they can both find themselves under severe economic pressure. Having to make tough decisions between balancing a budget, meeting day to day expenses, and paying expenses such as credit card debt, vehicle loans, or lines of credit is almost impossible if you are making less than a living wage.

Falling behind on your debt repayments can lead to creditors taking action. This can cause situations such as relying on high interest and hard to repay payday loans, wage garnishments, or seizure of assets. Once these things occur it can be nearly impossible to make ends meet.

We Can Help

If you are struggling with debt or dealing with wage garnishment in BC, we can help. Our Licensed Insolvency Trustees (LITs) at Allan Marshall and Associates are ready to provide expert guidance. We offer government-approved solutions to alleviate or eradicate your debt burden. Contact us today for a free consultation at 1-888-371-8900.

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David Macdonald

As a Licensed Insolvency Trustee I help people and small business owners resolve their financial problems. I’ve practiced exclusively in both consumer and corporate insolvency, litigation support and forensic accounting since 2003 in British Columbia, Alberta and the Maritime provinces.