November 27, 2013

Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage Builds Momentum

By Peter Miller,
Rebel Youth magazine 

The campaign to raise the minimum wage in Ontario is building momentum. On November 14 minimum wage workers and community members reached out to 50 MPPs demanding for them to sign on to the campaign.

Actions included protests outside of Premier Kathleen Wynn’s office in Toronto and NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s office in Hamilton. Delegations brought petition sheets, and large 5 billion dollar checks to represent the amount of money that would boost the economy from an increase to the minimum wage. There have been other events that show the campaign is picking up momentum. On November 5, a large forum in Scarborough attracted 250 people who discussed how to outreach and mobilize for the campaign.

So far one NDP MPP, Cheri DiNova from Parkdale-High Park, has endorsed the campaign to raise the minimum wage to 14 dollars an hour. Campaigners hope this is the first of many votes of support from MPPs in Ontario.

The NDP is slipping further to the center, becoming less and less likely to endorse progressive campaigns. However, pressure can still force MPPs to endorse the campaign, and community members will be increasing pressure in the upcoming months. 

Anti-poverty groups, students, workers, and tenants unions, as well as the Young Communist League have endorsed the campaign to raise the minimum wage. Many of these groups have also presented their demands to the Minimum Wage Advisory Panel that was started by the Ontario government last spring. Recommendations are expected to come to the Ontario Government in December.

The Panel is not representative of working Ontarians. It includes a member of the Retail Council of Canada that is lobbying the government to keep wages low for workers. A professor from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of management is the chair, and the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario has a member. Of the 6 members on the panel, only one, Antoni Shelton from the Ontario Federation of Labour, represents workers.  

The minimum wage is a poverty wage, well below the low-income measure and with decreasing purchasing power. Youth are being hit hard with the minimum wage, with 60 percent of minimum wage workers under 25 years of age.

With increasing tuition fees too, students are being forced to take part-time jobs at poverty wages. It now takes at least 20 weeks working full time at a minimum wage job to pay off tuition fees, up from 9 weeks a few decades ago, according to the Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario, that has endorsed the campaign.

Of course, it’s not only students who make the minimum wage.  Between 2004 and 2012 the number of minimum wage workers aged 35 years and over has increased by 10 percent, rising from 17 percent to 27 percent of minimum wage workers. 

According to the Canadian Labour Force survey, 35 percent of workers in Guelph make poverty wages.  The campaign in Guelph and across Ontario has made a commitment to reach out to low income workers in the community and get as many people involved in the campaign as possible. Doing this gives us the best shot and winning our demand.

The campaign in Guelph recently met with Guelph MPP Liz Sandals after protesting outside her office demanding a raise on November 14. Community members told Liz Sandals about the 35 percent of workers in Guelph that make poverty wages. To no one’s surprise, Sandals, a right wing Liberal MPP questioned our statistics that are from the Labour Board Survey. She also shamefully told members of the delegation that not all workers making poverty wages live in poverty, exposing she is in favour of big business making people dependent upon their families and partners because of poverty wages.

Unions are starting to show greater support for the campaign. This past Wednesday delegates at the Ontario Federation of Labour convention in Toronto protested in the centre of Toronto's Dundas Square demanding 14 dollars now. It’s important for unions, who often have many low-income members, to support the campaign, and show they are on the side of unorganized low-income workers as well.  

As precarious work becomes the norm, it becomes increasingly obvious that low wages, part-time work, and unstable working conditions are in the interests of big businesses that employ a majority of minimum wage workers.  Corporations and investors want an economy of greater income inequality, poverty wages, cuts to welfare, ODSP, and EI, while workers want living wages and no one to live in poverty. The Ontario government is on the wrong side for workers. A Minimum Wage Advisory Panel that has grossly inadequate representation from workers organizations and anti-poverty groups symbolizes this. Let’s continue to show the Ontario Legislature the power we have by demanding a raise. 

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