The call for a decent minimum wage – based on the principle that work should bring workers and their families out of poverty – is building momentum. Over the last few weeks, the minimum wage has been pushed into headlines. First, US President Barack Obama made a firm commitment to raising the US federal minimum wage and indexing it to the cost of living, a proposal that has generated overwhelming support in US opinion polls.
Second, after being sworn in as Minister of Community and Social Services last week, Ted McMeekin mused that he’d like to see an increase in the Ontario minimum wage – sparking speculation that the March budget might include a minimum wage announcement. Premier Kathleen Wynne, however, continues to hint that she would like to see further study on what measures should be used to assess whether the minimum wage should be increased.
Next steps for Ontario?
Workers across Ontario are hoping that Kathleen Wynne does not bow to business pressure. In February 2011, the McGuinty government heeded the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and other industry lobby groups’ call to freeze the minimum wage and commit to a committee to review minimum wage policy. This committee was never established. Ontario’s minimum wage has remained frozen. But as workers fall further and further into poverty, calls for a decent minimum wage are increasing.
In the three years since Ontario’s minimum wage has been frozen, inflation has driven minimum wage earners 19% below the poverty line (almost $4,500 below the low income cut-off; LIM). Ontario has the second highest number of minimum wage and low-wage workers in Canada. The fastest growing jobs in Ontario are in the services sector where minimum wage rates are the highest.
As U.S. President Obama said last week, “We know our economy‘s stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages… A family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong.” Ontario’s minimum wage — which sets the lowest legal rate of pay – is supposed to ensure that when you work, you earn enough to live. It does not. Ontario low wage workers need action now.
The new Wynne government has the choice to ensure our minimum wage in Ontario sets a standard of raising workers out of poverty. Ontario workers don’t need a committee or commission to set standards. We have just been through a lengthy commission on the review of Social Assistance. We don’t need another one!
Principles for a decent minimum wage
There have been numerous reports, research and brief after brief written on policy recommendations on poverty. Workers cannot wait for another commission or committee to consult on minimum wage rates for Ontario. The answers are already here and they are simple:
- The minimum wage should bring workers and their families above the poverty line. The minimum wage should be set 10% above the poverty line (LIM) on a 35 hour week. That means that Ontario’s minimum wage should be $14 in 2013.
- The minimum wage should be updated every year with the cost of living. That is what President Obama is calling for in the U.S. and that is what four provinces/territories are already doing in Canada.
Over the coming weeks, calls for a raise in the minimum wage will only get louder. Sign up on the right side of the page to get updates and find out how to get involved as the Workers’ Action Centre and an alliance of groups get ready to launch a new campaign for a decent minimum wage in Ontario.