Ontario’s working poor deserve better
TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – Ontario’s minimum wage hike won’t stretch far – it might cover a weekly bag of milk, a loaf of bread and a couple of apples.
Oct 01 2015. Editorial
Some 500,000 working Ontarians got a pay hike this week. The minimum wage edged up by a princely 25 cents an hour, to $11.25.
That’s an extra $8.75 a week for those lucky enough to hold down a 35-hour job.
Safe to say the extra cash won’t be splurged on bubbly. It wouldn’t stretch that far. It’ll barely cover a three-litre bag of milk for the kids, a loaf of bread and a couple of apples.
Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government can congratulate itself for “taking the politics out” of hiking the minimum wage by tying it to inflation. That’s good, as far as it goes. But as the Star’s Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports, it’s not enough to boost these workers’ purchasing power. People are working hard, to not get ahead.
That’s because the Wynne government settled on a benchmark wage of $11 that increases would be built on. And that was too low a base. It strands workers below the poverty line.
This raise is a day late and dollar short, as the old saying goes.
A minimum-wage worker in Ontario doing 35 hours a week will now earn just over $20,000 before taxes, well under the $23,000-a-year poverty line.
What would a decent living wage be? Advocates have called for a $15 an hour base, with inflation increases tied to it. As the Star pointed out last year, there’s a conservative case to be made, based on past Liberal policy, for a $12 base by now. By any standard Ontario comes up short.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” says Kaylie Tiessen, an economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Several American jurisdictions are adopting a $15 minimum, she points out. “There is still time for this Ontario government to revisit its own minimum wage and set it against a meaningful benchmark.”
In a recent report Tiessen noted that “an $11 per hour minimum wage falls far short of any suggested bench-mark: productivity gains, the average industrial wage, the living wage, or the poverty line.”
All this should give Wynne, the self-described “social justice” premier, political cover to re-open this issue.
More and more of Ontario’s 7.4-million-strong labour force are working in precarious, low-paying, part-time jobs. They urgently need better protection under Ontario’s outdated regulatory laws.
“The nature of work in Ontario has shifted and so, too, has the workforce,” Sheila Block, a senior economist for the centre, noted in a recent report. The laws “need to be modernized to reflect these shifts in Ontario’s labour market and to bolster workers’ rights.”
There’s been an explosion in minimum-wage earners. In 1997 only one Ontarian in 40 earned the minimum. Today it’s one in eight. More and more are in precarious employment, with unsettled working hours. And it’s getting harder to land full-time jobs.
Left unchecked, this grinding-down of the workforce will hurt Ontario’s long-term economic prospects, hobble provincial revenues and fray our social fabric.
Social justice is one good reason to legislate a living wage. Common sense is another.
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