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Just under a dozen of NWT’s employers credit themselves with paying staff a living wage, according to an Alternatives North news release last Wednesday.

A graph provided by Alternatives North shows the findings of a 2019 report on living wages. The report also included findings for Hay River and Inuvik.

The release of the list was timed with small business week “to say this is a thing that’s possible,” Alternatives North’s Suzette Montreuil told Yellowknifer. “We want to create a good sense of public relations: you want to see yourself on this poster.”

The employers include: NWT Seniors Society, Dene Nahjo, Top of the World Travel, Institute for Circumpolar Health Research, Yellowknife Education District #1, NWT Literacy Council, YWCA NWT, Crowe MacKay LLP, Collège nordique francophone, Ecology North and Alternatives North.

Regarding methodology, she said the organization contacted “several employers but there is an open invitation for any employer to contact us. We did not contact the GNWT because it was during the election campaign period.”

That wage varies depending on location: In Yellowknife it’s $23.95 per hour; in Hay River, $24.75 and in Inuvik $23.78. Calculated using the Canadian Living Wage Framework, it’s a basic approach, covering cost of living expenses like shelter, food and clothing, in addition to government benefits. Considerations like debt and savings aren’t included.

The costs are based off an assumed two-parent family, with one child in school and another in pre-school. Released in March, the Yellowknife wage spiked by $3 up from $20.96 in 2017, the last time the wage was calculated previously.

“I think really it comes back to, if you pay your employees adequately, you’re more likely to keep them,” Montreuil said. “There’s some savings in not having to continually recruit and train.”

On top of this is the high cost of living in the North, and in Yellowknife, where many of the employers on the list are based, according to Montreuil. Many are also non-profits with a few exceptions, which she says may be indicative of their wider social justice goals. However, the list is open to all participating organizations.

“If you’re advocating for justice for people, than paying a living wage is part of the parcel,” Montreiul said.

Other employers are keen to join them, she said. For the ones “that aren’t there yet,” Montreuil said, employees who’re less concerned with their immediate needs are more productive. She stressed the pay was to meet basic needs, allowing staff to focus on their work and employers to retain them for longer.

Craig Scott, executive director of Ecology North, said the organization already offered a living wage before the discussion came up. Facing competition from the Northwest Territories government and other employers, he said a competitive wage package makes the workplace more appealing.

“If you’re not going to be paying people a living wage, it’s difficult to make ends-meet,” he said.

However, there’s a difference between offering a living wage and a being certified living wage employer. He said many businesses are likely already close to offering a living wage, given the competition from government and industry positions.

For Kathryn Barry Paddock, executive director of NWT Literacy Council, it’s also distinct from a minimum wage, being specifically for communities’ cost of living rather than the flat rate of a territory-wide minimum wage.

“It efficient to provide the basics, and that’s just the basics, to families and children,” she said, adding it would alleviate some of the stress staff may carry into work. “For us, it’s a way to demonstrate that we want to support our employees.”

She said it’s important aspect of any organization’s programming and the budgeting process that “allows people to live in the city and live at a certain standard.”

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Nick Pearce

Nick Pearce is a writer and reporter in Yellowknife, looking for unique stories on the environment and people that make up the North. He's a graduate of Queen's University, where he studied Global Development...

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