When Helmi Ansari set out to grow his coffee and tea merchandise business, he and his wife realized that paying their staff minimum wage was not going to help the company succeed.

The CEO of Cambridge, Ont.-based Grosche International decided to pay his employees at least $16 per hour, a move he says paid off in better productivity, improved customer service and staff retention. 

Now, Ansari is calling on companies across Canada to embrace the so-called living wage, which varies from region to region, but is generally defined as the hourly wage workers need to lift their families above the poverty level.

Ansari co-founded the Better Way Alliance to champion the living wage movement in Ontario, where the hourly minimum wage is currently set at $11.40. The alliance is a mix of small-and-medium sized businesses, non-profit organizations and advocacy groups.

“There’ve always been organizations and businesses -- small and medium enterprises, and large corporations -- who have had great values,” Ansari told CTV News Channel this week.

“Treating your staff right, I think, just goes hand-in-hand with those values.”

Ansari said the businesses involved in the Better Way Alliance have realized that, “when you treat your staff right, your staff treat your customers right.

“And that creates an upward spiral of progress,” he said, adding that his employees have a sense of pride in the company and there’s less staff turnover.

“We believe…if somebody is working full time, they should have the opportunity to rise of out poverty,” Ansari said.

Bracebridge, Ont.-based Muskoka Brewery also started paying its employees a living wage last summer, becoming the first brewery in Canada to do so.

President Todd Lewin said the decision “definitely had an impact on the budget,” but the benefits have so far outweighed the cost. At the end of the day, he said, boosting the hourly wage to $15.85 has resulted in a better workforce.

“It makes it a lot easier to come to work and really enjoy what you’re doing when you’re not having to worry about putting food on the table or how you’re going to pay your rent,” Lewin told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.

He said the brewery’s decision to implement a living wage garnered “overwhelming response,” not just from employees but from beer drinkers across North America who applauded the company’s announcement.

Ansari said the living wage movement is about more than just pay. It also includes committing to reasonable work hours, flexible employee schedules and fair workplace practices. 

“We like to think of our employees as family and you treat your family well. You don’t want your family to struggle in life,” he said. “So if you say that, live up to it and that’s what a living wage and this movement is all about.”