Ontario raises minimum wage but not enough to pull workers above poverty line
Minimum wage may have gone up but a new report says the increase isn't enough to help low-wage workers.
|Report an Error|
Share via Email
Ontario’s minimum wage creeps up today, from $11 an hour to $11.25. But the boost won’t give much relief to the province’s growing number of precarious and low-wage workers, according to a new report.
That’s because current minimum wage levels would have to increase by a full 25 per cent in order to meet the standard set in 1976, when a minimum wage job lifted a worker above the poverty line.
In Toronto, minimum wage is still 61 per cent less than the hourly sum needed by a working family to scrape by, the research by left-leaning think tank the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows.
And across the province, a full-time job at Ontario’s current minimum wage still leaves a worker around 20 per cent below the province’s low income measure — while in 1976, minimum wage brought workers just above it.
“By every benchmark the government could have looked at, the minimum wage doesn’t measure up,” said the report’s author Kaylie Tiessen.
Today’s wage increase takes affect after the Liberal government pledged last year to tie minimum wage hikes to inflation. But to do so, it set a baseline rate of $11 an hour that future increases would build on — a figure the report calls arbitrary and inadequate.
“What we’re saying here is, the job is only half done,” said Tiessen.
“Tying the minimum wage to inflation is a really, really important step in the right direction. But we also need to talk about this benchmark, and what the benchmark could be.”
The report advocates setting the minimum wage to within 50 to 60 per cent of Ontario’s average wage. That, it says, was the practice until the 1990s when Mike Harris’s Conservative government froze the minimum wage.
If implemented today, the policy would set the province’s minimum hourly pay to around $15 an hour — the sum living wage advocates call a “decent minimum wage.”
The task is particularly important given that Ontario’s low-wage workforce has grown by 94 per cent over the past two decades, compared to 30 per cent growth in total employment.
Miranda White, a single mother with two children, experienced that shift first hand after she lost her unionized job as a factory manager around 10 years ago. She now works for a non-unionized Toronto grocery store at minimum wage and says she often struggles to make rent and pay bills on time.
“I used to make money. I used to have a car. I used to have money to spend,” she said at a fair wages rally organized Wednesday by the Toronto-based Workers’ Action Centre.
“If I made $15 an hour, then I wouldn’t have to do all this stuff I have to do (to get by). I could go out, I could go to the movies, I could buy a cup of coffee, I could pay my bills on time.”
The minimum wage for special categories like students and liquor servers also increases. For students, the rate rises from $10.30 an hour to $10.55. Liquor servers’ hourly minimum goes up from $9.55 to $9.80.
The Ontario government is currently reviewing its outdated employment laws, which exempt workers in numerous sectors from being paid a minimum wage.
Although those loopholes will be examined, the review will not assess whether the province’s overall minimum wage is high enough — despite recommendations from workers’ rights advocates and even some private businesses.
“We have more people who are working in poorer quality jobs just trying to make ends meet,” Tiessen said. “At a time when we have a squeezed middle class then one of the solutions to that is to ensure that people earning at the bottom are earning enough to get by.”
More on Metronews.ca