By TOM GODFREY
About 50 people with banners and signs gathered outside Toronto’s busy Dufferin subway station to celebrate an increase in the minimum wage of Ontario to $11 an hour.
The group staged an information session last weekend to alert the community of the June 1 increase of 75-cents, from $10.25 an hour.
Many of those on the street did not know of the raise, the first since 2010.
“This is a pretty significant increase,” said Sonia Singh, of Workers Action Centre. “This is the first increase we have had in four years.”
Singh said a substantial amount of women and visible minorities, including immigrants, are being paid the minimum wage.
She said many of them fear they will be fired if they approach their boss for a raise.
Employers are legally required to increase the wage of workers to $11 an hour or they can be taken to court, the group said.
Singh said studies have shown that as many as 35 per cent of those being paid minimum wage are people of colour.
“People in the Black community have a higher per cent in having low paying jobs than others,” she said. “More than 57 per cent of women are paid minimum wage.”
The group claims more than 1 million people in Ontario earn less than $14 hourly.
“We are pleased because it was an increase,” Singh told Share. “People are thankful but many are still living in poverty in Ontario.”
The minimum wage of students also increased last week by 70 cents to $10.30. In addition, the wages for liquor servers rose by just 65 cents to $9.55.
Officials said farm workers from the Caribbean and elsewhere who come to Canada to work are excluded from the minimum wage provisions under the Employment Standards Act.
Chris Ramsaroop, of Justicia for Migrant Workers, said he is meeting with some workers this week to determine how they will be affected.
Ramsaroop said most workers have funds deducted from their cheques for housing and other needs.
“We will be meeting with them,” he said. “These people work hard and should get a raise like everyone else.”
A study released last October said 9 per cent of Ontario workers were earning the minimum wage in 2011, up from 4.3 per cent in 2003.
The Wellesley Institute report also noted that women, recent immigrants and visible minorities are more likely to be working for minimum wage.
Yasir Naqvi, Ontario Minister of Labour, said the increase is good for workers.
“This will provide fairness for Ontario workers and their families and predictability and transparency for our businesses to remain competitive and succeed,” he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, a coalition of groups called “Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage,” is trying to urge Naqvi to raise the minimum pay to $14 an hour to keep up with the cost of living in Ontario.
A petition is being circulated with thousands of signatures and people are encouraged to write or call their local MPP to voice their concerns.
Members will be holding a rally on June 18 outside the office of a new Minister of Labour seeking to tie the minimum wage to the cost of living.
The coalition includes the Parkdale Community Legal Services, Peel Regional Labour Council, Social Planning Toronto and Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.
The increase was announced by the Liberals last January.