A Halifax councillor is proposing to hike pay for some city employees ahead of provincial minimum wage increases.
While the municipality has a living wage policy covering some contractors’ staff, there’s no wage guarantee for HRM’s own staff.
A living wage in Halifax, according to the latest calculation from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, is $22.05. Minimum wage in Nova Scotia is rising 40 cents to $13.35 an hour on April 1, with a plan to reach $15 by April 1, 2024.
“I think it would look bad for the municipality to simply wait for the province, which has been just moving on this way too slow over the last decade, to increase minimum wages,” Cleary said.
The motion covers HRM employees, along with those working at Halifax Public Libraries and multi-district recreation facilities like the Zatzman Sportsplex and Canada Games Centre, and it covers part-time, casual, and temporary staff.
Most of the city’s direct full-time staff make more than $15 an hour, Cleary pointed out.
“We’re talking about a fitness instructor, for example, who might teach classes at four or five different facilities, being paid 14 bucks an hour, or as a class cost, a fixed rate,” he said.
“I think it just behooves us to be paying people a fair amount and continue to move that up to a living wage.”
The Halifax West-Armdale councillor’s proposal would see the wage implemented by April 1, 2023 at the latest, and he brought an amendment to the committee proposing to raise the figure to a living wage a year later.
“Essentially what this would do is to say, ‘Okay, let’s move to 15 bucks an hour next year, and then the year after, let’s see what the impact would be if we were to go up to the living wage,’” Cleary said.
Coun. Trish Purdy was the only vote against Cleary’s proposal, both the amendment and the vote on the request for a staff report.
“I feel trepidation about this,” Purdy said. “Every business person I’ve spoken to about this — because this is very interesting to me, this living wage concept, because it seems like yes, obviously amazing idea — but not one business owner has said that this is good because of the implications that this will cause.”
In fact, many business owners are choosing to pay their employees a living wage. Cyclesmith, for example, implemented a living wage policy in September.
Cleary said he thinks most employers are already paying a living wage.
“Only those who are trying to earn more profit by taking it out on the backs of their employees are concerned about this and frankly, I’m not concerned about them,” he said.
Purdy also raised concerns about whether HRM can impose higher wages on the multi-district facilities, since they are run by separate boards. Cleary pointed out HRM owns them, and can stipulate higher wages in its agreements with them.
That motion will go to council for a final decision on whether to order the staff report.
The committee also recommended in favour of changes to the municipality’s property tax relief program during Wednesday’s meeting. The proposed changes would raise the income threshold for the program to better match the living wage.
That household income threshold would rise from $36,000 to $43,000, which staff said would “serve nearly 40% more low-income households,” equal to 600 property owners. The changes would also increase the maximum tax exemption available from $1,050 to $1,200. The average rebate would rise from $641 to $733.
Andre MacNeil, senior financial consultant with HRM, said the tax relief proposed would more than offset the 4.6% increase to the average tax bill contemplated during this year’s budget discussions.
The program would cost an extra $1.7 million annually, and now goes to council for a final decision.