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Living wage crawls forward in Esquimalt amidst divide

 It was standing room only as nearly 50 people witnessed Esquimalt council inch forward with the development of a proposed – yet restricted – living wage policy.

With a show of hands, councillors voted four-to-three on Jan. 17 to direct municipal staff to develop a document expected to come before council for further consideration in March.

“I have to say I’m disappointed because we don’t know fully what we’re getting into,” said Mayor Barb Desjardins, who was a voice of opposition along with councillors Linda Hundleby and Don Linge.

Last year the Community Social Planning Council calculated that two full-time working parents of two children in the Capital Region need to earn at least $17.30 an hour to pay for basics such as shelter, clothing, transportation and food.

On Monday, council favoured a narrower version of what it mulled in December, which would have impacted all township employees, including casual workers.

The premise behind implementing a living wage was originally to “recognize the problem of affordability in our community,” said Coun. Randall Garrison, who preferred the full version similar to Coun. Bruce McIldoon, but was satisfied with Monday’s result.

“This is not a question of charity. It’s a question of fair pay,” Garrison said.

Staff is now drafting a policy that will set a goal for full- and part-time township employees “that won’t apply directly to wages set in the collective agreement,” the resolution states.

The motion also stipulates that staff prepare a document that would only apply to future contracts with the township more than six months long – another new condition – or worth more than $100,000, such as, construction or vending machine service contracts.

The third new component is that council should re-examine the policy’s hourly rate, costs and benefits every three years.

 “No, we can’t afford to keep paying and paying on our taxes, and I heard that loud and clear,” said Coun. Meagan Brame, adding this scaled-back version should offset any financial implications and ease taxpayers’ concerns.

Still, the opposition urged for prudency.

“We have to take into consideration what the full effect of such a policy change would be,” said Linge, adding it may provide a “back door” to the township’s collective agreement, which could mean added expense for taxpayers. “If we do this, we stand to have our knuckles rapped by the labour relations board,” he said.