Street parties publicize call for $14 minimum wage — just enough to break poverty line

Posted on in Debates – news/GTA – Workers’ groups plan to stage events on the 14th of every month until next spring’s provincial budget.
Sep 14 2013.    By: Laurie Monsebraaten, Social justice reporter

Toronto meat packer Gyula Horvath has to work a gruelling 50 to 60 hours a week to survive on his wages of just $10.25 an hour.

“It’s no good,” the 22-year-old Hungarian immigrant, who is also supporting a wife on his meagre minimum wage earnings, said Saturday. “It’s very hard to pay rent.”

Call centre worker Jenny Kasmalee, 38, can rarely afford new clothing or other personal things on her $10.25 per hour.

“I have always worked for minimum wage,” she said. “It’s not much.”

A minimum wage worker should not be forced to live in poverty, said Lena Evlova, who is self-employed: “There is an argument that if you increase the minimum wage, you will increase spending and you will improve the economy.”

Horvath, Kasmalee and Evlova are among scores of Jane-Finch community residents who signed postcards Saturday asking Premier Kathleen Wynne to raise the minimum wage to $14 an hour. At that rate, someone working 35 hours a week would be able to live 10 per cent above Ontario’s poverty line of about $19,000 after taxes for a single person.

The “street party” for a $14 minimum wage outside the Jane-Finch Mall, and a similar demonstration next to the Dufferin Mall in Toronto’s west end, are part of a province-wide campaign by anti-poverty groups pushing for a higher minimum wage. A provincial panel appointed in July is studying how best to set future minimum wage hikes and is expected to report by December.

The minimum wage campaign, which began Aug. 14, is planning similar days of action across Ontario on the 14th of every month in advance of next spring’s provincial budget, when the Wynne government is expected to weigh in on the matter.

Ontario’s minimum wage has been frozen at $10.25 an hour since 2010. Under the Mike Harris Conservative government, it was $6.85 an hour for nine years before the Liberals began to raise it in 2004. Since then, Ontario’s minimum wage has gone from being one of the lowest in the country to one of the highest.

Alberta has the lowest minimum wage, at $9.95, while Nunavut’s is the highest at $11. Minimum wages in all the other provinces and territories are now at least $10.

Last week, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce reported that its members favour tying minimum-wage increases to inflation rather than the current ad hoc system that relies on government to decide.

But instead of annual increases, which its members felt would be too cumbersome, the business lobby group suggested adjustments every two years.

University of Toronto business professor Anil Verma, who chairs the provincial minimum wage panel, has said members will also look at factors such as economic growth and job productivity.

Angela Rose, 53, who struggled to raise five children while working a variety of low-wage jobs, said young people, especially, need a higher minimum wage.

“It will give children the motivation to work,” she said at the Jane-Finch event, which included Zumba dancing, live music and refreshments of samosas and juice for passersby.

Rose’s youngest son, now 20, is working in a minimum wage job, trying to save up enough money to go to George Brown College, she said.

“It’s hard to save anything when you are making $10.25.”

The campaign to raise the minimum wage is sponsored by a coalition of groups, including Ontario Campaign 2000, Parkdale Community Legal Services, Put Food in the Budget, Social Planning Toronto, Toronto and York Region Labour Council and the Workers’ Action Centre.

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