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Ford assembly line - 1913

- by David McLaren

You know an election campaign has started when Liberals start taking planks from the NDP platform to patch up their own band wagon.

Nevertheless, Ontario's workplace reforms, especially the graduated increase to a $15 an hour minimum wage are welcome and long overdue.

The current minimum wage of $11.40 an hour is a poverty wage. A poverty wage puts people into debt. A poverty wage puts people into poor housing and on bad diets. A poverty wage puts people in the hospital.

There can be no disputing this, not if you look at the past 20 years of research. The Bruce Grey Health Unit knows this. The United Way of Bruce Grey sees people every day who live it. There's even a doctor at St Michael's in Toronto who prescribes money – his office makes sure his patients get the financial help they are entitled to – and it makes a big difference in his patients' health outcomes.

Here are some other things we know. We know that the number of people earning low wages has increased 94% over the past 20 years. We know that precarious work (low wage, few benefits, contract, or part time, or on-call) is the new normal. We know that, in the GTA, over 50% of workers are trying to cobble together a life with those kinds of jobs. I'll bet you a Big Mac and a double-double that rate is higher in Bruce Grey.

Here's the deal: You hire me to do work that makes you money. In return, you pay me at least enough to live on. If you don't, I have to rummage around in food banks and look for a cheap place to live. Not only is money scarce, but so is decent housing and healthy food. Maybe I get sick. Maybe my kids get sick. I lose pay because I take time off, and if I take more than a few days, you fire me. Now I'm on welfare or in the hospital or joining the long line for subsidized housing.

Whatever else it is, a minimum wage is also a public subsidy for private profit. Now I know that there are small businesses in Bruce Grey that are precarious themselves, and they will struggle to meet the new rules. Some may close. No one wants that. But surely a business that depends on the poverty of its workers is something that belongs in the 19th Century.

Look at it another way. If you paid me a living wage, I might have enough to buy whatever it is you're selling. In fact, a couple of years back, the folks at Peace and Justice figured out that if only the big box stores in Bruce Grey paid a living wage (then around $15), there would be $22 million more in our local economy.

Remember Henry Ford? He paid his employees more than any other car maker so he could get the best workers and they would have enough money left over at the end of the month to put toward one of his Model Ts. Since then, seven decades of research tell us that raising the minimum wage does not increase unemployment or damage local economies.

Those of us who have looked at the research and others who work with people struggling to make ends meet welcome Ontario's workplace reform – its new rules on emergency leave, its protections for part time and on-call workers, its guarantees of equal pay for equal work, and more money in more people's pockets.

One thing bothers me. By 2019, when $15 an hour kicks in, it will be a poverty wage. I anticipate the living wage for Bruce Grey will be somewhere around $17.


 

 

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