By PAT WATSON
If you are an employed Person of Colour, female or immigrant living in Ontario, it is quite likely that you are earning the minimum wage of $10.25 per hour, or close to it. As the job market continues to transmute into a landscape of openings for service jobs with little opportunity for career growth, the call for an increase of the minimum wage to $14 per hour is building.
The number of people in Ontario working at jobs that pay the minimum wage has increased in the 10-year period from 2003 from just over four per cent to almost 10 per cent. That means many more people have entered the realm of the working poor. They are the ones who, although they have one, two or even three part-time jobs still have to supplement their food supply by going to the food bank.
How we got here has to be examined so that people who vote for decision-makers can hold them to account and so that we can make choices in who will represent our best interest as they make their various policy or vision proposals. Governments do not control the market directly, but they are involved.
Government leaders do not socialize as a practice with the person who takes your order at the fast food restaurant. Regardless of the story of their origins, they end up having cocktails or taking meetings with the rest of the elite. So, they see the world much differently than the person who during the period of the Mike Harris Progressive Conservatives back in the 1990s was earning the minimum wage of $6.85.
Given their comfortable incomes, members of the elite might wonder how anyone could live on that income, but that doesn’t stop them from looking after their own growing interests.
The elite get action. The poor get studies that are then responded to piecemeal, so that regardless of the findings and recommendations about how to improve their conditions there is never quite enough of a response to advance a decent life. This is despite the fact that economic conditions significantly affect social conditions, health, mental wellbeing, life expectancy, and on and on.
The poor have been suffering for decades in this city, so someone has been selling a bill of goods to immigrants as they continue to pack up and move here with dreams of a better life for their children in this so-called developed country.
With a campaign promise to do so, the current Liberals brought the minimum wage to where it is now – but not without some foot-dragging. However, as international trade policies, immigration policies and corporate profits that have benefited from tax cuts pull away from innovation and shift to jurisdictions where wages are even lower, the job market here worsens. The result is more and more people are drawn into jobs paying minimum wage, and the result of that is the heightened call for a minimum wage increase.
If it were the case that only high-schoolers working part time at those fast-food chain jobs were in the minimum wage bracket then the call for the increase would not now be so loudly supported by the various organizations such as ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), the Worker’s Action Centre and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
If it were that simple, however, it would have been done already, especially as it can win votes. When wages of the poor go up, their portion of tax payment also goes up, leaving many feeling they are no better off. Small businesses that employ workers at minimum wage pay are also concerned about how to make the adjustment.
I still argue that a better solution to the poverty crisis is to implement a guarantee income supplement across the board that is indexed to actual income. That is the discussion that should really be had at this time.
A note on Martin’s Day…
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is the leading figure from the period in the United States when African-Americans coalesced to demand all the rights that each member of that society is entitled to. King’s birthday being Jan. 15, the third Monday in January is dedicated to memorializing him and the movement. But let us not get so caught up in worshiping King that we overlook our own obligation to continue to safeguard and advance the rights and respect due every human being on this planet.
Pat Watson is the author of the e-book In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.