In August of 2023, NU Grocery became certified by the Ontario Living Wage Network. This means that NU’s employees earn a minimum of $19.60 an hour after their probationary period, which is the current calculated living wage rate for the city of Ottawa. As new rates are calculated for Ottawa, we will adjust our wages to maintain our certification.
What is the difference between minimum wage and living wage?
The minimum wage is the legislated minimum all employers must pay and is set by the provincial government. It was recently increased to $16.55 an hour.
The living wage reflects what people need to earn to cover the actual cost of living and enjoy modest participation in their community. It draws on community-specific data to determine the expenses of various family models, including a family of four, a single parent and a single adult working full time, full year. This framework was developed by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and is being used by communities across Ontario to calculate their local living wage rate.
Why do we believe it is necessary to pay a living wage?
Cost of living has increased sharply in recent years and it is objectively not possible to live independently and under decent conditions with an hourly wage of $16.55. Working on minimum wage means facing impossible choices, like choosing between buying food or heating the house. The result can be debt, constant anxiety and long-term health problems.
Employees that earn a living wage face fewer of these stressors, and employers that pay a living wage can be confident that they are not keeping their employees in poverty.
But that’s not all. We want to see a change in the way workers in the service industry are perceived and treated. Service workers in retail and the food industry are underpaid and undervalued, and a service job is often seen as a temporary gig, not a legitimate career path. We want to change this perception, and it starts with paying a fair wage.
How can we afford it?
It is a fair question, so let us go back to how it started!
When the pandemic hit us all, working in retail became particularly stressful. To help our staff cope with the pressure, we introduced a weekly paid mental health day in March of 2020. Our staff was paid for 5 full days a week but only worked 4, and used their extra day to take care of themselves and recharge their batteries. Because of this paid day of rest, we became de facto a living wage employer.
Faced with similar challenges, major grocery chains introduced a “hero pay” of $2 an hour, but ended it abruptly in June of 2020 after the first Covid-19 wave subsided. For us, canceling our paid mental health day was out of question. The pandemic was far from over and vaccines would only become available to us in the spring of the following year.
Keeping our paid mental health day was morally the right thing to do, but we also realized that it made sense economically. Turnover rate and absenteeism went down and employee satisfaction improved. Staff was more rested and therefore more productive at work. Despite the difficulties our business faced in the past three years, we managed to retain employees and fill all our management positions with internal candidates. This year, many of our staff members celebrated their 3rd and even 4th work anniversary with us.
High turnover means a lot of time and money spent on hiring and training, and a state of unsteadiness that wears on owners, staff and customers. Paying a living wage is only one of the tools to reduce turnover and it needs to go hand in hand with other measures like paid sick days, fair scheduling practices and a caring work environment, but it certainly is a decisive one and we are proud to be a forerunner.
As a business teacher, I always tell my students that “business is what you make it”. You can make it ruthless and cut-throat, but you don’t have to. From reducing waste to treating our employees fairly, we believe in business as a force for good. When you shop at NU, these are the values you support!
Co-Founder & CEO