By Paul Bocking (Originally Published in December 2013 Issue of Bluffs Advocate)
A coalition of local community groups and unions are advocating for a raise in Ontario’s minimum wage to $14 an hour. Organizations including Respect Scarborough, the South Asian Women’s Rights Organization (SAWRO) and the Toronto and York Region Labour Council state that the increase would lift over 1.4 million workers in Ontario above the poverty line, while contributing $5 billion to the provincial economy through their increased purchasing power.
A public meeting at RH King Academy on November 5 drew nearly 200 participants from across Scarborough with the largest numbers coming from the southwest. “It’s been three years since the last increase in the minimum wage, has anyone’s rent stayed the same in that time? Have groceries? TTC fare?” Sonia Singh of the Workers Action Centre asked the meeting. She received a resounding no.
Saida Yasmeen, a member of SAWRO with a Bachelors of Education and five years experience as a certified teacher in Bangladesh before arriving in Canada in 2005, now works two jobs- in a fast food restaurant and as a temporary industrial labourer to support her family. “I work seven days a week and I have little time to spend with my children,” she told the audience.
“Recent studies show that the highest increase of low wage workers is right here in Scarborough. That is why Scarborough deserves a raise. People know that this is the reality of their neighbours, and that people deserve better in the wealthiest country in the world.” said John Cartwright, president of the Toronto Labour Council. “The vast majority of low wage workers in Toronto do not work for small businesses, they work for multibillion dollar corporations. Like Walmart, Wendy’s, Target or McDonalds.”
Meeting participants were grouped in tables depending on the Scarborough riding in which they live. A week later on November 14, many of these groups delivered petitions and met with their local Members of Provincial Parliament to build the campaign. Another wave of rallies and meetings across Toronto and the province is planned for December 14.
Going further with the economic case for a raise, Cartwright added, “Empirical studies that have been done in a wide number of jurisdictions in North America and Europe proves that it doesn’t hurt jobs. It actually helps the local economy. Poor people with a few extra dollars in their pocket are not going to deposit that money in an offshore bank account in the Cayman Islands. They are going to go to the local grocery store, buy a little bit better food, buy a new backpack from the local department store… It is going to benefit the local economy.”
Addressing the aggressive lobbying at Queen’s Park against the raise by some corporate associations, Cartwright replied, “Some of the business lobbies talk about what would happen if – none of those actually match the reality of what has happened anywhere, including Ontario. We went from $8 to $10.25. And the sky certainly didn’t fall… But Target has expanded, Walmart is in the process of expanding – all of these companies that said this would chase away business are here doing more business.”
The $14 minimum wage campaign was developed through a series of consultations at the Workers Action Centre and tenant’s rights group, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), whose members work in low wage jobs. $14 raises an individual’s income 10% above the poverty line. It is still far below a living wage currently $17 for Toronto, defined by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives as enabling individuals and families to participate broadly within civic life.