Health unit supports municipal ‘living wage’ policies

Posted on January 29, 2015 in Debates – News/Local
January 28, 2015.   By Denis Langlois, Sun Times

Public health and the Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force are both backing a call for municipal councils in the region to adopt “living wage” policies for their employees.

Dr. Hazel Lynn, the area’s medical officer of health, said the move would send an important message, even if municipalities already pay their full and part-time staff over the suggested minimum of $14.77 to $16.76 per hour.

“It gives the statement that they’re aware of (the problem of precarious work) and they realize that people need to earn enough money to live,” she said Wednesday in an interview.

Peace & Justice Grey Bruce asked Owen Sound council this week to adopt a policy that would require the city to pay, at minimum, a living wage for all part-time and full-time city employees as well as people who perform physical work on city property.

The policy should be tied, the group said, to the living wage established each year by the United Way of Bruce Grey, which takes into account the cost of basic needs and “social inclusion” expenses like modest gifts, Internet access, swimming lessons for a child and a short vacation in Ontario.

Based on a single parent with two children, the living hourly wage should be $14.77 for people who reside in Owen Sound and $16.76 for rural residents, the United Way says. The current minimum wage in Ontario is $11 an hour.

Peace & Justice also asked council to direct city staff to present a report on the impact of implementing a living wage policy for services contracted by the city.

Council voted to ask for a staff report on the potential financial impacts of living wage policies for city staff as well as contractors.

Peace & Justice presented to city council Monday the final report of its precarious work group, which conducted research and held community discussions from April to December 2014 on the increase of jobs that do not pay well enough to allow a person to cover their basic monthly expenses as well as the personal and social impacts of the trend.

The report says the vast majority of new jobs in Ontario are in the service sector and come with low pay. As a result, it said “people are falling out of the middle class and into working poverty.”

Family income levels in Grey-Bruce are, in general, well below the provincial average of $59,377, the report says. About 40% of lone-parent families in Owen Sound and Georgian Bluffs make a median income of only $15,590, according to Statistics Canada, which is half of what the United Way of Bruce Grey says is needed to live on.

Precarious work, the report said, is a “major driver of social inequality.” The working poor are more likely to fall ill, visit emergency rooms and have other health problems. They also rely more on food banks and other social agencies and charities.

Public health said in a news release Tuesday that precarious employment is “becoming the new normal for our workforce.”

People with low income or without a job, it said, tend to experience more health problems, including adult onset diabetes, heart attacks and mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and increased suicide rates.

Lynn said poverty-related stress and the inability to purchase healthy foods, both contribute to poor overall health.

The health unit says it wants “council members to recognize that the actions they take as elected officials will affect the health, equity and sustainability of their community.

“Municipal government can shape the health of a community through the design and delivery of policies, programs and services. We ask their support for actions that improve the health of our communities,” the news release said.

Jill Umbach, planning network co-ordinator for the Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force, said the trend of precarious work must be addressed “to ensure that families are able to provide for their families.

“Stopping this trend will reduce the need for social supports and allow families to live in dignity,” she said in the news release.

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