Ontario needs an increase in the minimum wage
TheStar.com – opinion/editorials – Ontario’s budget didn’t give a minimum-wage increase but the Liberals need to push ahead on their promise for an advisory council to review change.
May 25 2013
It has been three years since Ontario’s low-wage workers got a boost of extra cash when the Liberal government of the day raised a minimum wage that had been frozen for nearly a decade.
It was a laudable decision, even though the hourly increase to $10.25 from $6.85 was too little to raise full-time low-earning workers above the poverty line. All the more reason now, three years on, for Premier Kathleen Wynne’s new government to give serious thought to another increase, this time tied to inflation. It won’t mean a huge jump in paycheques, because the cost of living has barely increased. But eventually, as inflation rises, an indexed minimum wage would provide a bit of extra income for the workers who struggle hardest to get by.
Indeed, poverty activists have been pushing for a $14 mandatory minimum. But Wynne’s recent budget did not offer immediate change. It provided some extra money to social assistance recipients, but for the 8 per cent of the workforce that is earning the minimum it promised only an advisory panel of business, worker and youth representatives to examine possible adjustments. The panel is to report back six months after the budget is passed. It will “consult widely” to see how the minimum wage is set up in other provinces. Some provinces index wages based on the consumer price index while others rely on minimum wage boards or advisory committees.
Whatever the panel recommends, political leadership will be needed. Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi’s office says it is working on the file, and setting up the panel. And, granted, there are trade-offs to consider.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has made the case that substantial wage increases “tend to hurt rather than help low income employees” working for small and medium-size firms because employers who absorb extra costs may be tempted to reduce hours, training or cut jobs altogether. That’s why a December 2012 report on vulnerable workers by the Law Commission of Ontariorecommended a minimum wage committee, specifically to balance the needs of workers and those of business which must absorb the extra costs.
The minority Liberal government needs to get the balance right. But that shouldn’t become an excuse for temporizing.
Of course a minimum-wage increase alone won’t eradicate poverty. The working poor need stable full-time jobs, not the transitory jobs that the law commission report says isolate and diminish lives. “Today more work is precarious, with less job security, few if any benefits and minimal control over working conditions,” the report found. In order to support a better life, the working poor need full-time work, affordable housing and subsidized daycare.
Still, for workers who are forced to count their pennies, every little bit helps. That’s why the Wynne government should favour an increase in the minimum wage. It’s the place to start.
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