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Living wage would impact Revelstoke retail and hospitality most: report

Kevin Dorrius (right) leads a discussion of Revelstoke businesses on paying a living wage at an economic conference in Revelstoke in May. Seated, from left, is Sonia Ratte of La Baguette, Angus Woodman of Downie Timber, Steven Cross of Revy Outdoors and Malcolm Bott of Universal Footwear. - Alex Cooper, Revelstoke Review files
Kevin Dorrius (right) leads a discussion of Revelstoke businesses on paying a living wage at an economic conference in Revelstoke in May. Seated, from left, is Sonia Ratte of La Baguette, Angus Woodman of Downie Timber, Steven Cross of Revy Outdoors and Malcolm Bott of Universal Footwear.
— image credit: Alex Cooper, Revelstoke Review files

A new report on paying a living wage will be used to spearhead discussions about becoming a living wage community, says the manager of Community Futures Revelstoke.

"It certainly is a topic that's going to be worthy of considerable community discussion," said Kevin Dorrius. "Even with this report, it's pretty hard to really pick a side at this point. There's both pros and cons."

The report, which was written by Kenneth Carlaw, Mike Evans, Lindsay Harris and John Janmaat of the Institute for Community Engagement Research at UBC Okanagan, was published in November and released to the public late last month.

It gives a sector-by-sector look at what the impact on the local economy would be if businesses paid a living wage of $18.87 per hour — the amount that was calculated in 2015. At the time, it was the third highest in the province of communities where the living wage was calculated, after Vancouver ($20.64 per hour) and Victoria ($20.02 per hour).

Revelstoke now sits eighth out of 21 communities with a certified living wage calculation, behind Vancouver, Victoria, Clayoquot Sound, Golden, Kitimat, New Westminster and Powell River, according to Living Wage Canada. The Sunshine Coast and Cowichan Valley have living wages within 10 cents of Revelstoke.

"A living wage is the hourly wage rate needed to provide a minimally decent quality of life, including basic expenses such as food, clothing, shelter and transportation," states the report. "Unlike minimum wages, living wages typically provide a higher wage rate that reflects the true cost of living in a community."

The figures are calculated using a standard set by Living Wage Canada, a non-profit that also certifies the figures.

The report says for Revelstoke as a whole, the impact of implementing a living wage would be positive as the extra income flowed through the economy. However, the negative impacts would be borne most significantly by the retail, accommodation, and food & beverage sectors, which would see the biggest hits to their bottom lines. For the first two, profits would fall by about two-thirds if a living wage was paid. while the food & beverage industry would see losses if they paid a living wage, though the report doesn't indicate if they factored in tips into their wage calculations.

The tourism sector also sees a notable impact, with profits dropping by about a quarter, while for all other sectors, profits would drop by less than 10 per cent, the report says.

The report says businesses could make up for this by either raising prices or increasing sales.

"Any adequate consideration of a living wage must consider a range of factors including direct fiscal impacts on employees and firms, more diffused economic impacts like price increases and multiplier effects, and even more difficult to measure social and political consequences like increased social inclusion and participation," write the authors. "Further, while there are clear gendered differences in wage rates, and thus the benefits of increased wages, there are also clear sector by sector, and firm by firm, differences in the likely impact of a living wage that should be considered. Future work requires incorporation of wage distribution data by gender as well as economic sector."

Dorrius said Community Futures hopes to lead a community-wide discussion on implementing a living wage.

"One of the first steps we need to do before we start this discussion is update what the living wage really is," he said. "Then we can start a meaningful discussion on whether Revelstoke should become a living wage community or whether we come up with a made-in-Revelstoke solution or a softer solution to look at some of these issues."

He acknowledged it will be a bigger challenge for businesses with tighter profit margins. He said they don't necessarily have to raise their hourly wages, but could come with other solutions like voluntary benefits and bonuses.

Dorrius said he is attending a poverty reduction conference in Hamilton, Ont., this spring and hopes to return with more ideas to alleviate the impacts of poverty in Revelstoke.

"In theory, addressing affordable housing and addressing a living wage are probably going to be the two biggest impacts that could address alleviating the working poor issue in Revelstoke," he said. "Do they make sense? That's what we have to figure out."

You can read the full report at communityfuturesrevelstoke.com/living-wage-final-report.

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