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Living wage employers see benefits, concerns as wages rise across province

As the cost-of-living goes up B.C. wide, some businesses who choose to pay living wage are also feeling the pinch.

According to a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, living wage in the Comox Valley has hit $22.02 per hour. Over in Powell River, that wage is over $3 an hour higher and over $4 an hour more on the Island’s west coast.

Monthly living expenses have also increased over the last year. The Comox Valley Social Planning Society says the average cost of food for a family of four per month has gone up six per cent to over $1,300.

Transport has also gone up 86 per cent to $953 per month and housing has not dropped either, with an average $1,938 per month.

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Some Comox Valley employers choose to pay their employees a living wage such as Design Therapy located downtown.

Co-owner Jenny Deters says they have always paid a higher wage, with the goal to find and keep good employees in an expensive place to live.

“The reason for that is because it is hard to find good employees and when you have a good team they run your business,” said Deters. “They’re working towards your future, and you want to make sure they are rewarded, and you don’t lose them, and it costs way more money to train new people.”

Deters adds that as the cost of living goes up, they want to ensure that their employees can still have a life outside of work and not need to work two jobs.

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Another living wage employer is the Comox Valley Airport. Marketing and communications manager Grant McNeil adds they have seen it help retain employees and keep a good team spirit.

“We open very early in the morning, and we close very late at night, we have quite significant seasonal peaks and valleys, and that sort of workplace can be a strain at times,” said McNeil.

“What we see is a recurring motivation and a more reliable smile on the face early in the morning or late at night.”

However, as living wage rises it can also prove to be an issue for employers covering their own costs. Deters says both her and her business partner have taken pay cuts this year to help ensure their staff receive a living wage, and there are concerns that it could become too much.

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“It is very stressful to keep up. We have seven to eight employees at all times, and you can’t just give the lower paid employees who are making just above the living wage rate a raise,” said Deters.

“You have to give all of your employees a wage because they need to be above the living wage threshold relative to the job they do. The margins are definitely getting smaller and smaller.”

Deters adds that while they could complain about the increase in staff costs, their staff are also feeling the crunch like others.

“We can’t expect them to come to work every day and feel good about taking care of our business when they’re worried about how they’re going to buy groceries,” she said.

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While the airport is in a different situation, McNeil says it something they forecast for and try to mitigate as much as possible.

Even with the higher cost, Deters says the benefits of paying living wage has outweighed the drawbacks.

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