In recent years, the “living wage” concept has moved to the forefront of socio-economic discussions in Canada. The living wage – a wage rate that considers the actual costs of living in a specific community – differs greatly from the minimum wage, which is often set without comprehensive regard for these real-life expenditures.

For many Canadian workers, the struggle to earn a living wage and secure a decent quality of life is an ongoing challenge. This article aims to highlight the importance of organized labour and organizations like the General Presidents’ Maintenance Committee for Canada and National Maintenance Council for Canada (GPMC | NMC), in the fight for fair living wages. First, let’s start by defining “the living wage”, and understanding the struggle non-unionized workers have in the quest for a living wage. A wage that affords people dignity and health.

Defining the Living Wage

In contrast to the minimum wage, a living wage is calculated based on the income a family needs to cover basic expenses, including food, clothing, rent, healthcare, education, and transportation. In addition, the calculation includes a small amount to allow for unexpected expenses. The living wage differs from region to region due to varying costs of living.

The Struggle of Non-Unionized Workers to Attain a Living Wage

A growing percentage of non-unionized employees in Canada don’t earn a living wage. One prominent obstacle they encounter is their limited negotiating power.
In contrast to their unionized counterparts, non-unionized workers are viewed as individual units in matters of wages, hours, and working conditions. This perspective can place them at a disadvantage when interacting with employers, who often possess greater resources and legal knowledge.

Additionally, non-unionized workers often grapple with issues of job security, lack of benefits, and lack of pension. Unions typically facilitate collective bargaining, empowering workers to negotiate for improved working conditions, employment stability, and valuable benefits such as health coverage and pensions.

Non-unionized workers, in contrast, may not enjoy these protections, potentially placing them in precarious financial situations, particularly if they encounter health challenges or job termination.

Income disparity also poses a significant problem for non-unionized workers. Studies indicate that workplaces with union representation usually feature more equitable wage distribution. However, in non-unionized environments, the wage gap can be substantial. Workers at the higher end of the pay scale may earn significantly more than their lower-paid colleagues, exacerbating overall income inequality. This disparity amplifies the challenge for lower-wage earners to secure a living wage.

Non-unionized workers in sectors with lower unionization rates often suffer from a downward spiral effect. Companies in these sectors, such as retail and hospitality, might find themselves compelled to reduce wages and slash benefits, including pensions, to maintain competitiveness. This cycle can lead to even more challenging circumstances for workers in these industries.

Non-unionized workers’ struggles in Canada highlight the pivotal role of collective bargaining and labour rights in ensuring a living wage for all employees. Without such support structures, many workers remain exposed to financial instability and wage stagnation.

From a Living Wage to Dignified Compensation

It’s essential to differentiate between a “Living Wage” and “Dignified Compensation”.

A living wage is the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their basic needs. This includes essentials such as housing, food, healthcare, transportation, and utilities. The concept does not involve any kind of discretionary income and is often set above the poverty line to ensure that individuals can cover their cost of living.

On the other hand, “Fair and Dignified Compensation” goes beyond just covering the basics. It’s a wage that not only covers all essential bills but also allows individuals to save money, invest in personal or family growth, and enjoy leisure activities.

Under this compensation, individuals can afford a comfortable vehicle, go on vacations, enjoy pension and health benefits, and generally have financial stability and security.
These two concepts reflect different goals for wage policy. While a living wage is about meeting minimum standards, dignified compensation is about ensuring quality of life and long-term financial health. Both are essential considerations in discussions about fair wages, labour rights, and economic policy.

Prevailing Wage & Impact on Skilled Trades

The Government of Canada in 2023 defined another term – prevailing wage – that provides a framework for employers to receive Investment Tax Credits. To qualify, employers will be required to provide workers with satisfactory labour conditions for workers in addition to complying with the Canadian government’s definition of prevailing wage and requirements established for both apprenticeships and diversity.

The Vital Role of GPMC|NMC in Securing Fair & Dignified Compensation for Members

The alliance administers maintenance agreements in key industrial sectors including oil sands extraction, oil refining, petrochemicals, mining, electricity generation, pulp and paper, natural gas processing, offshore oil and gas processing, steel production, and consumer product production.

Since 1952, the GPMC|NMC has established its reputation as a trusted mediator between unions, employers, and maintenance customers, safeguarding the interests of skilled labourers across diverse industries. This commitment to fair compensation and labour rights has culminated in a total of over $1.1 billion in annual wages and benefits for its members, directly contributing to the Canadian economy.

The GPMC|NMC is a linchpin that provides crucial multi-trade agreements that dictate the essential terms for maintenance activities across various sectors. Fundamentally, these agreements incorporate the financial conditions brokered by the 13 unions that form the alliance. Not only do these agreements maintain a streamlined grievance process, but they also assure no disruptions in the form of strikes or lockouts, ensuring the continuity of essential maintenance work.

The GPMC|NMC’s impact extends beyond the economic realm. By equipping maintenance customers with highly skilled tradespeople necessary for managing complex industrial facilities, the organization supports the operational backbone of industries such as oil sands extraction, petrochemicals, electricity generation, and more.

In conclusion

The GPMC|NMC exemplifies a pillar in the sphere of Canadian labour relations, staunchly championing fair and dignified compensation for all its members. Drawing from a rich heritage of steadfast commitment to workers’ rights since 1952, the GPMC|NMC continues to provide leadership in unionized maintenance.

The GPMC|NMC exemplifies a pillar in the sphere of Canadian labour relations, staunchly championing fair and dignified compensation for all its members. Drawing from a rich heritage of steadfast commitment to workers’ rights since 1952, the GPMC|NMC continues to provide leadership in unionized maintenance.

Note from the GPMC | NMC Team of Editors

The above content has been written, curated and edited for easy reading. If you feel we’ve left out any critical information, please feel free to reach out and let us know by emailing