-David McLaren

On the face of it, the jobs report for our region looks pretty good. Unemployment is down two points from this time last year, an additional 3200 jobs compared to August of this year, and more people optimistic enough to be looking for work.

It's when you drill down that the cracks in the economy appear: all of the new jobs are in the service sector (food, accommodation, tourism). They are precarious: low wage, part time or short term or seasonal (or all of the above).

Agriculture gained 1400 jobs—probably related to the harvest, so these too would be precarious. Manufacturing lost 1100. Utilities (hydro, solar, wind and nuclear) lost 500 jobs, which is worrying because Ontario was supposed to be using its so-called Green Energy Plan to create jobs making wind turbines and solar panels.

These are not encouraging stats, especially when you consider, for StatsCan, our region includes Huron and Perth counties—both agricultural centres and both closer to major highways to Toronto and the US. We're left wondering how much of the gains (or the losses) are tallied here in Grey-Bruce.

It's cold comfort to know that we are part of the national trend to precarious service jobs and away from good-paying manufacturing jobs. The good news of 67,000 more jobs nationwide must be taken with a grain of salt—most of those are positions that pay poorly.

Gemma Mendez-Smith, executive director of the Four County Labour Market Planning Board takes the jobs report with just the right amount of salt. If employers are offering only low wage, entry-level jobs, but want people to stick around then, she says, they may have to pay, not the minimum wage, but a living wage.

The idea of getting paid enough to live on is not a new one—it dates back at least to the time we figured out that the work house and the debtor's prison were bad social and economic policies.

Too bad the federal government has just ruled out hiking the wages of poorly paid employees in federal jurisdictions. Over 800,000 people work in sectors that fall under the Canada Labour Code and they include some of the poorest paid: bank tellers, marine & dock workers, radio & TV employees, those working on First Nations, feed & seed mill workers, telephone operators, and more.

Excluding a living wage leaves governments at all levels (including municipal) with fewer policy tools to raise income.

There's no reason why the private sector shouldn't be encouraged to play, and pay, fair. In fact, work by Peace and Justice Grey Bruce tells us that, if the big box stores alone (never mind the fast food franchises) paid their employees a living wage it would inject some $22 million into the economy.

Not paying a living wage only makes it harder for a lot of our neighbours to make ends meet. It cuts them out of the social and economic life of our communities.

On a national scale, the failure of companies to pay fair is perhaps the major driver of inequality. And inequality, the research shows, brings its own set of social and health problems which, as you can probably guess, are paid for out of the public purse.

Not paying a living wage is essentially a taxpayer subsidy for employers, be they government or private.

No one wants a hand-out. But everyone wants—and deserves—to be paid fair and square for their labour.



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