Last month, the Fair Wages Commission (FWC) was established to independently advise the BC provincial government how to move towards a $15-an-hour minimum wage with increases that are regular, measured, and predictable. In advance of preparing their first set of recommendations, the FWC are consulting people throughout the province by holding regional meetings in eight communities in BC.
On Thursday, November 16th, the first regional meeting was held in Abbotsford. There were a broad range of voices, including industry (retail, agriculture), parents, low wage workers, teachers, and legal aid. I spoke on behalf of Vibrant Abbotsford, a poverty reduction initiative of the United Way Lower Mainland and host of the Living Wage Fraser Valley campaign. I shared what I have learned about the impacts of minimum wage by speaking to employers and low wage workers in the Fraser Valley.
There are a number of ways your voice can also be heard by the Fair Wages Commission. Below is my presentation to the FWC:
My name is Shakira Miracle and I am the Coordinator of Vibrant Abbotsford, a poverty reduction initiative of the United Way of the Lower Mainland. I will be speaking on behalf of this initiative today. In addition to my work in poverty reduction advocacy and development for more than a year a half, I am a mother to grade school children and a board member on a couple of different organizations.
One of the campaigns Vibrant Abbotsford hosts is Living Wage Fraser Valley, where we advocate for and raise awareness about Living Wage. We also partner with Living Wage for Families Campaign on the Living Wage Employer Certification program by recruiting and recognizing certified Living Wage Employers. It is through my experience with this work I am speaking today.
I find that numerous employers I communicate with regularly are not aware of the impacts of working poverty. I share with them that there are more women over the age of 20 who earn a minimum wage than teenagers do. I also share that the current minimum wage does not meet the current cost of living. I am keenly aware of that fact because part of my work is collecting the data to calculate the living wage in the Fraser Valley annually.
I am most proud of the work I do because it is a non-partisan, independent initiative that underscores the need for each individual to have a role in supporting all members of our community to not only survive, but thrive. I also gain a unique insight from employers about their struggles to and successes in relation to wages.
Some of the struggles employers in the Fraser Valley have shared include the very high rate of annual turnover. One employer told me their annual turnover rate is 80%. The same employer stated they are losing staff because they are driving further west for a few dollars more an hour. This is creating a system of job churn in our community. Employers have shared this also is a barrier to profitable predictability. Their expenses increase with every new job posting, rehiring, and retraining. In addition to all of this, Employers are struggling with a lack of productivity as their staff lack the motivation when their income isn’t even paying the bills.
Employees currently paid minimum wage have shared with me their frustration around the choices they have to make. Rather than remain at a local job for a minimum wage that does not cover their monthly expenses, they will drive further west for a few dollars more. More to the point, those same employees have told me they are working Saturdays or are working a second job just to make ends meet. One man I spoke to believes his health has taken a turn for the worse and his family relationships are strained because of his working longer days and shifts. He just wants more time with his family.
I’d also like to take a moment to share a story about a young woman here in town who is a cook in a local restaurant. She started at minimum wage. She accepted the wage even with her previous job experience because she’s a single parent. The location of job allowed her to be available for her kids before and after school. Equally as important, she works near her home and their school in case they got sick or she was short on gas money. I think many would agree her priorities were right. However, it was so hard to hear her describe how she was forced to sacrifice economic security to maintain her priorities.
So, what do Employers and low wage workers I speak to suggest is a solution? A higher minimum wage that must happen now.
Employers wish to increase retention and productivity. Low wage workers want to be able to simply afford the current cost of living. Folks in my line of work wish to see a more healthy, vibrant community with increased local investment, social engagement, and an overall sense of security.
We don’t often get the opportunity to share our own experiences and recommendations to those who can make a real impact on our lives. This is our chance to share our own stories. There are several ways you can participate in the consultations.
- Submit your written feedback online by email to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than December 7, 2017. There is also pre-written letter of support.
- Attend a regional meeting. You can listen, learn from, and show your support for those presenting. If you would like to appear before the Commission, please email email@example.com with the date and city you wish to speak. The following dates are still coming up:
- November 23, 2017 – Vancouver
- November 28, 2017 – Prince George
- November 29, 2017 – Victoria
- November 30, 2017 – Surrey
- December 7, 2017 – Cranbrook