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Bare minimum

With Ontario’s Basic Income Pilot being cancelled, credit unions are embarking upon initiatives to help boost living wage levels in the province.

Communities across Canada are responding to increasingly high levels of low-wage poverty. They are advocating that families should earn an income sufficient — the so-called living wage — to pay for the basic necessities of life.

In Ontario, the provincial government announced this past summer that it was cancelling the Basic Income Pilot launched early last year, leaving the responsibility of suitably compensating individuals up to employers and businesses. The Ontario Basic Income Pilot program started in April 2017 and reached its peak enrollment of 4,000 participants a year later.

The program was designed to help average Canadians make ends meet by providing additional
funds to individuals who were earning below the basic income level (under $34,000 per year for single individuals, or under $48,000 per year for a couple). As stated on the Government of Ontario’s website, the individuals who met the criteria would then receive monthly basic income payments for up to a three-year period, compensating for their minimal paycheques.

Although government funding for this program may have ceased, the private sector is showing more support.

The Ontario Living Wage Network (OLWN) is an organization representing the growing global living wage movement. The OLWN advocates for certified living wage employers by raising awareness on the subject and, most importantly, by providing resources. The OLWN website houses a directory of all the companies in Ontario that pay a suitable living wage as well as a breakdown of all the wages by geographical region, benefitting not only the public but business leaders. The network is comprised of various organizations, employers, employees, non-profits and researchers who believe that Ontarians deserve adequate work compensation that provides them with the bare minimum needed for the necessities of life.

One of the organizations involved with OLWN is Kindred Credit Union (23,000 members, $1.2 billion in assets), whose slogan is Banking with Purpose. “Taking care of our staff aligns with our values and we believe our members would expect nothing less of us in caring for our staff community,” says Kindred CEO Brent Zorgdrager. “It’s another tangible way that Kindred is inspiring peaceful, just and prosperous communities,” Zorgdrager says.

For the second year in a row, Kindred has donated to OLWN to help implement living wage policies for organizations across Ontario. “Kindred is further committed to promoting the living wage within its industry by helping businesses become certified,” says Frank Chisholm, director, brand and marketing, at Kindred. In July 2017, Kindred supported OLWN by funding the network’s first Employer Program Manager to extend the reach of the initiative. Funding was renewed in 2018.

So, how can other credit unions follow suit? Credit unions, firstly, can become certified employers and help advocate for change. Business leaders in Ontario should check out ontariolivingwage.ca and see how easy it is to become a certified living wage employer, Chisholm says. Credit unions outside of Ontario can become involved by visiting livingwagecanada.ca to see what programs are available in their province. “This network is a very supportive community that wants to see the movement grow. If the living wage infrastructure is not yet established in your area, take the lead and take advantage of living wage champions across the country who are happy to share their knowledge and experience,” Chisholm says.

For more information on OLWN, check out the Canadian Credit Union Association’s (CCUA) webinar, “Our experiences with becoming recognized Living Wage employers,” which took place this past November. It was presented by DUCA Credit Union (50,000 members, $3 billion in assets), Kindred Credit Union, Libro Credit Union (105,000 members, $3.6 billion in assets) and PenFinancial Credit Union (20,000 members, $630 million in assets). The webinar is also posted on the CCUA website. ◊