Anti-poverty group calls for minimum wage increase to $14 an hour

Posted on in Debates – business
AUGUST 14, 2013.   By Laura Armstrong, Ottawa Citizen

Anti-poverty activists rallied outside MPP Madeleine Meilleur’s Montreal Road office Wednesday to protest Ontario’s minimum wage freeze.

Members of ACORN Ottawa say almost 20 per cent of Ontario workers were forced below the poverty line in the three years since the provincial Liberals froze minimum wage at $10.25. ACORN’s provincewide campaign is calling for the rate to be immediately increased to $14, reflecting the rise in inflation since 2010.

“I have two children. They’re 30 and 28. At that age, my income was better, I was living better than they are now. There’s something wrong with the system, for you not to be able to have a decent life,” said Diane Rochon, an ACORN Ottawa board member.

About 30 people spent an hour “making noise” outside Meilleur’s office. The MPP for Ottawa-Vanier was in Toronto, but ACORN Ottawa member Jason Quintal, one of the rally’s leaders, was able to reach her over the phone. Quintal said a representative from Meilleur’s office suggested the group book a time to meet with Meilleur when she was back in Ottawa.

ACORN Ottawa chose to target Meilleur because they believe she was instrumental in the Liberal’s decision to freeze the minimum wage. Members wants Meilleur to tell them what she is willing to do to further the group’s cause and in what time frame those goals can be achieved, said Quintal. ACORN Ottawa hopes to meet with a Minimum Wage Advisory Panel, appointed by the Liberals in July to examine a potential minimum wage increase in 2014.

“Since the minimum wage was frozen in 2010, the price of everything has increased: food, energy, gas,” said Quintal. “There’s a gap that’s growing. People who work full-time at minimum wage can now afford a lot less than what they were able to afford three years ago. We just want to see that minimum wage raised proportionally with the increase in inflation in the last three years.”

Frances Woolley, professor of economics at Carleton University, said increasing minimum wage requires a trade off: raising the rate will make life better for people with minimum wage jobs, but it will also raise labour costs, making it more expensive for firms to hire workers.

“One of the biggest debates in economics right now is how much raising the minimum wage reduces employment,” Woolley said. “Would it cause one in 10 minimum wage jobs to be lost? Or one in 1,000 jobs? We just don’t know.”

Given the uncertainty, Woolley said, incremental changes in the minimum wage are a good thing. According to Woolley, it would make sense for minimum wage to be indexed to inflation.

Quintal said he’s heard people say increasing minimum wage means better but fewer jobs. He could not give an example, but he said that according to information from ACORN Ottawa, there is no factual evidence to support the critique.

“In general, what I’ve read is that based on empirical research, that’s not necessarily the case. Job growth is the same or it actually goes up.”

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