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empty walletEditor

Every once in a while, the truth squeezes out and sits like a turd on the living room floor where everyone can see it. It happened when Republicans in the US let it slip that their efforts at ‘election reform’ were really aimed at suppressing the votes of those who might oppose them on election day – students, African Americans and Hispanics.

So it was when Rocco Rossi, the CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce tweeted out a photo of a $72 bottle of Nueva Clicquot (brut) and assorted caviar and pastry delights. His caption? “Celebrating New Year’s the 1-percenter way? Let them eat cake :-).”

This from the head of the organization that fought Ontario’s Workplace Reform laws tooth and nail, especially the raise in the minimum wage to a measly $14 an hour and celebrated when the Ontario government canceled the scheduled raise to $15.

But never mind, it’s the new normal. The top 100 CEOs in Canada now earn 200 times what their average worker makes in a year. And, this year, it took them to noon on the first day back to work in the New Year to equal the average annual wage of $49,738.

In the UK it’s not quite so bad. It takes CEOs there 3 days.

The pay packets for Canada’s executives inflated by 8% between 2015 and now. Worker wages have risen 0.5% - not even matching the rate of inflation. It’s getting so people can’t afford bread, let alone cake.

The inequality this breeds, as the research clearly shows, is bad for societies. The Spirit Level (2010) by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson lays out the evidence for that. They correctly predicted the sort of disfunction that walks in the wake of inequality – the knife attacks in the UK, the rise of right-wing populism, the degradation of public services (and public servants), a steep rise in opioid addiction and suicides (the last two are related, I think).

But inequality is like global warming. Everyone knows its happening. Some of us feel its effects more than others. We might make a better effort to recycle and compost and donate, but both climate change and precarious work are endemic – bred into the bone of our economy.

Much of our economy depends on mining oil. It’s money for workers, more money for the C-suite and the stock holders they are beholden to. More money on making things that burn it – planes, trains and automobiles. Well, you know as well as I that oil won’t be allowed to stay in the ground. And that no, Mr Trudeau, you can’t talk like an environmentalist and build like an oil baron.

So too, you can’t offer employees low wages and few hours and then complain you can’t find workers who will stay in the job. In the long run that’s not how you grow an economy. It is, however, how you grow inequality.

No one should be surprised at a recent survey of employees conducted by our region’s Four County Labour Market Planning Board. It shows that the real unemployment rate is a lot higher than the figures coming out of Stats Canada. It also shows workers are willing to stay in a job if the skills they have are put to good use.

But – and these are the most revealing finding of the survey – the second most common reason workers give for leaving a job is unpredictable (precarious) hours. And the primary reason they quit is to escape harassment and bullying – the lack of respect shown by employers and supervisors.

Unlike money, disrespect is something that does trickle down. Just look at Rocco Rossi’s smiley-faced turd of a tweet.

David McLaren

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