“I initially thought it was a bad idea…..I was wrong"

Guest Blog: Steve Traviss, Port Coquitlam

Steve Traviss is Director of Human Resources for the City of Port Coquitlam. He was the staff lead responsible for Port Coquitlam becoming a Living Wage Employer.

In this blog he shares his journey to Port Coquitlam becoming a Living Wage municipality.

Port Coquitlam is a fair, family friendly, city in Metro-Vancouver. We care about our community and we want people to be paid a fair wage.

The idea of becoming a Living Wage municipality first emerged following the 2014 municipal elections. Several councillors were elected who had committed to introducing Living Wage policies at the City. In 2015, the council voted to explore the idea of becoming a Living Wage municipality.

From skeptic to advocate

When I first heard about this, I thought it was a bad idea. I thought it was a tokenistic gesture which would introduce a lot of bureaucracy and cost to the City with limited impact.

Five years on, I will admit that I was wrong. Introducing a Living Wage commitment did not take a huge effort or cost but it can have a big impact on low wage workers and set an example to other employers, not only in our community and sector, but in the province to follow our lead.

Implementing a Living Wage

As part of the implementation process, I studied how many direct staff were currently earning below a Living Wage and the steps needed to ensure that contracted workers be brought up to a Living Wage.

Most of our City workers are already paid above Living Wage so the biggest impact was on some of our contracts, specifically cleaners. As a result of the City adopting the Living Wage, we actually ended up bringing all our cleaners in-house as the costs were similar to that of having a contractor provide cleaning services and pay their staff the living wage.

Contract administration has been fairly straightforward with standard language in our tenders and contracts that stipulate the requirements to pay their staff a Living Wage when carrying out work on behalf of the City. As well, we set a minimum contract value threshold that significantly reduced contract administration for the very small City contracts. Throughout our implementation, VanCity, the City of New Westminster and the Living Wage Campaign staff were incredibly helpful as we navigated the implementation of Living Wage.

We have had a few reports emerge where contractors aren’t paying a Living Wage. These are usually sub-contractors of a contractor (for example a flagger hired by a construction contractor). When these issues are brought to our attention we investigate and take the necessary action.

Recertification has been really straightforward. Every year the Living Wage for Families Campaign send us an update on the new Living Wage rates. We then have 6 months to bring all staff up to the new rate, and fill in a short form to recertify our commitment.

Impact for the City of Port Coquitlam

I think it is really good that the city is leading the way on this important initiative. It’s showing that workers matter and we want good paying jobs in the City.

I’m happy to speak to others about the process we went through in Port Coquitlam, and to advocate for a Living Wage with other employers.