Huu-ay-aht will become the first First Nations community in Canada to adopt a living wage policy for all of its employees.
Out of respect of all Huu-ay-aht employees, executive council voted in favour of implementing a living wage policy on Friday, October 24. This will require that some adjustments of the minimum wage amounts in the existing wage and salary structure for employees. The decision was made based on the belief that B.C.’s current minimum wage is not high enough to meet the needs of families to promote health and wellbeing.
Huu-ay-aht believes people should not have to decide between paying rent and feeding their family, and with today’s high cost of living, this is a reality many people face. According to the Living Wage for Families Campaign, in 2013, 1.8 million employed people in Canada do not make enough to pull themselves above the poverty level. Many are forced to rely on food banks in order to get by.
British Columbia has the second highest child poverty rate in Canada, and low wages are a key contributor. The 2013 Child Poverty Report Card found that 32% of poor children, more than 44,500 in BC, live in families with at least one adult working full time.
Huu-ay-aht believes that work should lift families out of poverty not keep them there.
“Too many of our people are living on minimum wage or below the poverty line,” explained Elected Chief Councillor Jeff Cook. “It is our hope that this will offer our employees choices other than to just survive and live pay cheque to pay cheque.”
In 2010, New Westminster became the first municipality to adopt a living wage policy. Currently, according to Living Wage Canada, 15 municipalities have calculated what their living wage would be. The range of wages is between $14.60 (Cranbrook) and $20.10 (Vancouver).
The living wage that has been calculated for Port Alberni is $17.22 per hour, or $33,579 annually. Using the Canadian Living Wage Framework as its guide, Huu-ay-aht has agreed to adopt this as their minimum wage. By doing so, it becomes the second community in BC to adopt a living wage policy for its employees.
“The Treaty has given us the ability to make decisions based on our values and goals, and implement those decisions in accordance with our own laws. The living wage policy shows how the Treaty gives us the ability to chart our own future,” said Councillor Tom Mexsis Happynook. “We have a long way to go to meet or exceed the living standards of Canadians, but this is a great step in the right direction.”
A living wage is different from minimum wage in that it takes into account the amount a family needs to cover basic expenses. These are the barebones costs with no extras, but it is calculated as a total compensation, including wage and benefits. Where the minimum wage focuses on the needs of a lone individual, the living wage focuses on the needs of families and includes medical and health needs, food security, transportation, and skills development.
Huu-ay-aht wants more for its employees and its citizens. Part of the Huu-ay-aht Strategic Plan is to become an ’Employer of Choice’ in the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District. In order to foster a dedicated, skilled and healthy workforce, Huu-ay-aht First Nations believes it must pay a living wage to all of its employees. By doing so, they are making a significant investment in the future and building long-term prosperity for the economy.