By Gerard Di Trolio
There has been little discussion of poverty or improving the situation for Ontario’s most vulnerable workers during the provincial election, but the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage is trying to change that. The campaign’s outreach blitzes have been happening in cities across Ontario, and their activists have also been visiting campaign offices in order to put pressure on candidates to act.
The assembled activists at the intersection of Bloor and Dufferin in Toronto on May 31, was to remind the public that the minimum wage was increasing 75 cents to $11, on June 1. Activists were happy that their work had pressured to Liberal government to increase the minimum wage, but were also aware of its limits as a poverty fighting measure.
“Our message is still, we need 14 dollars now,” said Sonia Singh of the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage.
“We’re quite clear that (11 dollars) it is still a poverty wage. 11 dollars is still 16 per cent below the poverty line, and so we are going to be organizing for 14 dollars,” Singh said.
“After four years of a frozen wage of 10.25, 75 cents will not make any difference. It’s neither here nor there. You still won’t be able to save a penny,” said long time member of the Workers’ Action Centre, Esther Sebastian.
Despite the half measures from the Liberal government, activists remained confident. “Without fighting, we can’t get anything else,” said Sashi Ahilan, of the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage. “There are too many of us – about one million – struggling to get by on inadequate wages and we’re not going away,” Ahilan noted.
The Ontario NDP is proposing a 12 dollars per hour minimum wage indexed to inflation by 2016. That would still leave the minimum wage 12 per cent below the poverty line. The Progressive Conservatives are against any increase.
However, the ONDP is offering up a small business tax cut to supposedly offset the effects of a minimum wage increase on small business. The small business-mania that some progressives love to talk about in fact has little to do with the minimum wage.
“Well the reality is that the vast majority of low wage workers in Ontario are working for billion dollar corporations like Wal-Mart, McDonalds, and Tim Hortons. The same people that are busy trying to bring in temporary foreign workers in order to press down wages for people in the hospitality industry,” said Toronto and York Region Labour Council President John Cartwright.
“When poor people get an increase in wages, they don’t go put that money in the Cayman Islands. They spend it in the community,” Cartwright said.
In the absence of support from the leadership of Ontario’s political parties on the issue, a bottom up approach may prove more effective.The Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage has been visiting the campaign offices of candidates in ridings across Ontario.
“I think there’s definitely candidates who really get that working in Toronto or any city across Ontario is a struggle,” said Singh. “So you see candidates individually supporting our demands, and that’s how are message is going to trickle up. They need to here it on the doorstep, in the campaign offices and from their volunteers,” Singh said.