HALIFAX COUNCIL SAVED THE BEST FOR LAST. They raised the wages of workers for businesses with city contracts September 30—at their last meeting before the October elections.
The new wage rate will be $21.80 per hour, which is the current living wage rate for Halifax, as set by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
The new policy is a significant step up: an earlier staff proposal left it up to city departments to decide whether to “consider” criteria like supplier diversity or a living wage when contracting out services.
A ‘more robust’ requirement
A new report to council from procurement consultants on September 29 recommended adding “a more robust Living Wage requirement” to the social procurement policy as part of a “Supplier Code of Conduct.”
The living wage requirement in the supplier code of conduct for certain Halifax Regional Municipality contracts, will cover such things as solid waste services, custodial and janitorial services, snow and ice management, and security services .
There was strong support for the motion. It passed by a vote of 13-4. Coun. Lindell Smith spent most of his first term as councillor making the case for a living wage policy. He made the case one last time before the final vote.
A simple action
Smith said:“To me it’s simple. It might be costly, but it’s simple. Providing a living wage … to folks who are living on the edge is important, and I cannot imagine what families are dealing with when they have to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet.”
“And we have had employees in the past, you know, specifically some of our cleaners … who we would see during the day at city hall and then you go to the grocery store and you see them at the grocery store working overnight cleaning as well because that’s what they have to do to pay their bills. And for a living wage, we at HRM could be a leader in that.”
The staff report pegged the annual cost of paying a living wage at $8 million.
Councillors did not wobble in their support for the living wage. They voted against two motions to delay moving on the living wage policy.
Coun. Sam Austin argued council shouldn’t be so concerned with the dollar figure.
“If this prompts some sort of tax increase down the line, I’m OK with that,” Austin said. “To keep taxes low on the backs of some of our most vulnerable citizens … that to me is morally bankrupt.”
The effect of the passed motion won’t be immediate. As the municipality’s contracts end, the new ones will use the living wage, essentially phasing it in.
Smith raised concerns over the fact that there still will be municipal employees not making a living wage. The living wage policy will mean workers for contractors may earn more than some casual, part-time or seasonal HRM staff, like lifeguards, fitness instructors, trainers, as well as library staff.
Chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé told council he would bring such considerations to council’s budget talks early next year.
Another exception exempts the collective agreements negotiated by the 13 building trades unions affiliated with the Mainland Nova Scotia Building Trades Council from the living wage requirement.
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