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Dear Doctors:

There are a few things we know from research on the impact of low wages. We know that not paying people enough to live on means poor diets and unhealthy housing. We know that bad diets and bad housing lead to increased use of emergency rooms, higher rates of hospitalization and poorer recovery outcomes.

Did you know that Dr Andrew Pinto, a physician with family health team at St Michael's Hospital, prescribes money for his patients? He has hired full time staff to make sure his patients are getting the financial help they need and are entitled to. His office helps people with applications to Ontario Works, Workers Comp, ODSP – anything to make sure they can afford their prescriptions and eat better food.

Low wages also impoverish a nation.

Did you know the Conference Board of Canada gives Canada a 'C' for dealing with income inequality – that we do only a little better than the USA? And the Board gives us a D for our levels of working-age poverty – only Japan and the US have higher rates than we do.

And did you know that Australia's restaurant servers, even at the entry level, are paid a living wage? That's a wage equivalent to a living wage for most of Ontario – just over $20 an hour. This goes back to a 1907 ruling of their Court of Conciliation and Arbitration that said if an employer can't pay a living wage, he or she is not entitled to operate a business.

The Australian economy remains as robust as Canada's.

Employers everywhere should know that they have an important role to play in the wealth and health of their employees.

A good part of that health comes from a healthy workplace – one that's free of harassment and bullying and the stress and ill-will that flow from treating people badly. It's one in which people – workers and patients – are respected. Respect costs nothing to give but, as the Harvard Business Review says, it yields tremendous dividends.

Nurses and other staff in ERs and doctors' offices are often the first to see the effects of poverty. As any good doctor will tell you, the empathy and caring and, yes, respect these workers show to patients helps the healing. Well-trained, professional, empathetic staff are worth their weight in gold in any business, but especially in the health care business.

The first order of business in health care is always, 'do no harm.' I don't know about you, but to me the research says, 'Respect your workers, pay a living wage.'

David McLaren




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