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Basic needs met at $20.68: report
Alternatives North determines hourly 'living wage'

James Goldie
Northern News Services
Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The hourly wage necessary for an average family in Yellowknife to meet their basic living needs was unveiled last week and it's more than eight dollars higher than minimum wage.

NNSL photo/graphic

Michel Haener, originally from Yellowknife but currently based in Grand Prairie, Alta., recently calculated the city's living wage - the minimum income family earners need to survive in a specific community. - James Goldie/NNSL photo

The "living wage" - disclosed Thursday at a lunchtime event by social justice coalition Alternatives North - has been calculated at $20.68, according to a report, whereas minimum wage is currently $12.50 in the territory.

"It incorporates what really is a sort of a bare bones budget that includes some of those basics like food, clothing, rent, transportation and some other elements," said Michel Haener, an Alberta-based economist who produced the living wage report, commissioned with funding from the GNWT Anti-Poverty Fund.

Julie Green, lead organizer for Living Wage Yellowknife - an Alternatives North initiative - said for years the efforts of many anti-poverty advocates in the city have been focused on services like emergency shelters or food provision.

"A couple of years ago we started to think about what are some of the systemic things we could change so we could actually end poverty rather than just making it a little better for people who are

in need," she said.

Green emphasized that unlike the territorial minimum wage, a living wage would not be legislated. Employers chose to pay a living wage and in return will receive a special designation from Living Wage Yellowknife, recognizing its commitment.

She told the audience her group does not yet know how local businesses feel about the idea of paying a minimum $20.68.

"We adopted this two-step process: the first was to build a coalition to show there's support for the living wage and then to go to the employers and ask if they would become living wage employers," she said.

"Our goal is to get the city to sign on (as a living wage employer)," she said. "We feel that if we had one large employer sign on that that would be an incentive to other employers."

City council has not yet had any discussions about the living wage program because there has not yet been any presentation from Living Wage Yellowknife, according to city spokesperson Nalini Naidoo.

"I think we'll start hearing more formally from groups like this once our new council is sworn in," said Naidoo.

Deneen Everett, executive director of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, told Yellowknifer she did not think providing the living wage is a realistic goal for every business owner.

"Many of my members already do that. It's the really small businesses that can't afford to do that," she said.

Everett views the high cost of living and doing business in Yellowknife as the real issue to be tackled, not wages.

"Businesses are actually experiencing the same costs as residents. They're paying the higher rent, high electricity as well.

"I think that frankly businesses would close - they wouldn't be able to be sustainable," she said.

At the program launch, Haener stated that employers providing a fair wage save money through lower training costs, less turnover and less absenteeism among employees.

"Often the increase in wages is offset by these other employer benefits," she said.

Haener based her calculations on the most common family type in Yellowknife - two working parents and two children - and followed a formula that balances average annual expenses with annual employment income, income from government transfers and tax expenditures. This model is used across Canada by communities seeking to establish their living wages.

Haener determined these figures from Statistics Canada, the NWT Bureau of Statistics, and by speaking with various service providers.

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