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Wed, 05/27/2020 - 16:13

Halifax city staff smother living wage possibility with bafflegab


SOME HALIFAX COUNCILLORS LIKE THE IDEA OF A LIVING WAGE. But not enough to actually make it a reality.

SOME HALIFAX COUNCILLORS LIKE THE IDEA OF A LIVING WAGE. But not enough to actually make it a reality.

The councillors’ ended their three year dalliance with the possibility of a living wage ordinance for the HRM (Halifax Regional Municipality) May 12 when they agreed to bury it alive in a mushy bit of mumbo jumbo about a “social policy framework.”

How that happened is a cautionary tale. It reminds us how vunlnerable honest efforts to do good always are; how they all too often get swallowed up in a political system where our representatives remain free from any requirement to actually keep promises made to those who vote for them.

Robert Devet wrote a recent article in the Nova Scotia Advocate of how all the living wage high hopes in Halifax were whittled down to nothing more than platitudes in a “social policy framework.” The text in italics below are direct quotes from that article.

2016: The year of the living wage

“One of the more prominent issues during the 2016 municipal elections in Halifax was a living wage ordinance, much like the one in place in Vancouver and other Canadian municipalities.

“The ordinance would force city contractors to pay their workers a living wage. A living wage, unlike a minimum wage, is sufficient for a family of four with two people working to eat healthy, live in a safe home, and altogether live a dignified life.

“The wage is calculated based on the cost of living in a specific location. In Halifax the living wage is calculated to be $19 per hour. That’s not a whole lot of money. It’s a living wage, not a living in luxury wage.”

The 16 councillors who were elected were split on the living wage issue: six were in favour; two were opposed; the rest remained silent.

Unanimous support for a study

In June 2017, some seven months after the election, Council unanimously approved a motion that directed staff to “create a cross departmental working group” that would do a deep dive into the whole issue and ultimately recommend for or against a living wage.

“That’s pretty straightforward.

“When I asked the City where that motion stands spokesperson Maggie-Jane Spray told me it had been absorbed into something much broader, namely a staff report on a social policy framework through which to assess future initiatives.

“‘Once the social policy has been approved at Regional Council, staff will be able to provide further direction and information regarding the application of a social lens for future procurements as requested by Regional Council, such as a living wage,’ Spray wrote me in January.

Living wage evaporates

“As a result, on May 12, almost three years later, Council will discuss a report that doesn’t even contain the term “living wage,” or “wage” for that matter. Instead, we get a theoretical policy framework that talks about lofty visions and principles.  

“Not to say it isn’t a thoughtful report. But it isn’t going to help you if you are struggling to make ends meet. It isn’t about a living wage ordinance, it doesn’t tell you what implementing a living wage would cost, what city contractors pay their workers now, or anything else that you’d need to consider if you were at all interested in doing something for real.

“Meanwhile the City has been awarding all sorts of contracts to the lowest bidder, whether it is for janitorial services (Halifax Council continues to ignore fair wages for outsourced services), parking enforcement (Op-ed: Fair wages clause in Halifax tenders nothing but fluff) or whatnot.

“During this term Council had an opportunity to do something about the low wages paid by its contractors, and instead it chose to do nothing at all.

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