11 dollars not enough, says anti-poverty groups

Friday, January 31, 2014

  • Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage in Guelph protests in front of McDonalds.

    Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage in Guelph protests in front of McDonalds.

Written by Peter Miller

Photo by Denise Martins. 

Debate about the minimum wage is picking up momentum. There is no doubt that students at the University of Guelph are definitely interested in this topic. Many students are working at low paying jobs now or will graduate with their first job being low paying.  In fact, 1.4 million workers make wages at or just above the minimum wage.

“The portion of Ontario workers toiling for minimum wage has more than doubled from 4.3 percent to 9 percent over the past decade and the situation is only getting worse,” Sid Ryan, the President of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) said in a recent OFL press release.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has recently announced a minimum wage increase to 11 dollars an hour. Wynne has also agreed with recommendations from the Minimum Wage Advisory Panel to enact legislation to increase the minimum wage each year with the cost of living.

Labour unions, poverty groups, and people involved in Ontario’s Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage to 14 dollars an hour are claiming a victory with the recent announcement that the minimum wage will increase each year with the cost of living. However, they are not stopping their call for a minimum wage that is above the poverty line.

“Since the beginning, minimum wage workers, anti-poverty groups, unions and community organizations have been demanding that the minimum wage be increased to $14,” said Guelph Raise the Wage organizer Denise Martins. “This number was carefully calculated as the minimum amount necessary to lift workers above the poverty line. This demand was also coupled with the recommendation that the $14 must be indexed to cost of living. Although we commend the panel’s intentions in agreeing to index the minimum wage, and we see it as a victory for the thousands of Ontarians that have been raising their voice around this issue, it simply does not solve the problems of working people living in poverty.”

Last month, the Campaign to raise the Minimum Wage held actions in cities across Ontario. For these actions they emphasized the connection between low wages and the growing health inequity between the rich and the poor in Ontario. 

A recent letter to Premier Wynne from Gary Bloch a Family Physician and member of Health Providers Against Poverty; Lorraine Telford, a registered Nurse; and Axell Janczur, Executive Director of Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services, urged the Ontarian Government to raise the minimum wage above the poverty line.

“Below-poverty wage is making hard working Ontarians very sick with preventable chronic illnesses, all of which are top priorities for Ontario’s [Ministry of Health and Long Term Care] MOHLTC,” the letter stated. “As healthcare professionals, we see first-hand these damaging health impacts on working people. However, beyond addressing the symptoms, our hands are largely tied. We can’t tell our clients to eat better, find better housing, take time to relax or exercise more, because how will they afford the healthy food, running shoes, and time this will require.”

The Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage has highlighted that low wageworkers often cannot afford essential healthcare. Studies also show that low wageworkers are more at risk of getting chronic diseases.

Recently, representatives of the minimum wage campaign got together in Toronto to discuss next steps. Representatives from anti-poverty groups, labour unions, student unions, and local groups working on the campaign decided to build the momentum of the campaign. Local actions for 14 dollars an hour will be taking place in cities across Ontario on the fourteenth of every month, and the movement hopes to pick up the pressure making the minimum wage an election issue with an upcoming provincial election that will probably take place in the spring. Local activists, including minimum wage workers involved on the campaign also discussed the importance of organizing unorganized, poverty wageworkers, into unions.

In the United States the Fight for 15 campaign is building momentum and minimum wage Fast Food workers have even organized day long strikes. Meanwhile, in Canada, in the province of Nova Scotia, the Baristas Rise Up campaign has had success in unionizing workers in coffee shops. The campaign to raise the minimum wage in Ontario wishes to follow in their footsteps. 

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