Labour re­form pack­age wor­thy of sup­port

THE SPEC­TA­TOR’S VIEW

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Howard El­liott

Does On­tario re­ally need a higher min­i­mum wage? Con­sider this. To live above the low in­come cut-off, also called the poverty line, you must earn $23,867 af­ter de­duc­tions. If you work a 40-hour week at the cur­rent min­i­mum wage of $11.40 per hour, your gross in­come is about $23,700. Be­fore de­duc­tions.

In Hamil­ton there are nearly 30,000 cit­i­zens clas­si­fied as work­ing poor. Many of those work more than one part-time job, typ­i­cally earn­ing min­i­mum wage. They’re work­ing but can’t earn enough to pull them out of poverty.

Now, let’s talk about the $15 per hour min­i­mum wage. If you worked full time at that rate, you’re gross in­come would be just over $31,000. You won’t be tak­ing many Caribbean va­ca­tions on that, so what will you do with the ex­tra eight grand? Chances are, you’ll spend it on food, on the ne­ces­si­ties of life, on per­haps the odd nicety. You’ll be more able to af­ford your kids tak­ing part in sports and other com­mu­nity ac­tiv­i­ties. The bot­tom line is that ex­tra money isn’t go­ing to give you a lux­u­ri­ous lifestyle; but it is go­ing to flow di­rectly into the lo­cal econ­omy. More buy­ing. More trans­ac­tions. More in­vest­ments. That’s called net ben­e­fit.

Busi­ness groups like the Hamil­ton and On­tario cham­bers of com­merce don’t agree. They warn changes like the new min­i­mum wage and other re­forms an­nounced by the Kathleen Wynne gov­ern­ment yes­ter­day threaten to sti­fle job cre­ation and eco­nomic growth. Those con­cerns should be heard and ad­dressed. But it’s also fair to note that no min­i­mum wage in­crease has ever been sup­ported by the busi­ness lobby sec­tor, and also that warn­ings about the dire con­se­quences of past in­creases haven’t ma­te­ri­al­ized for the most part.

It’s not just the wage that is op­posed by the busi­ness sec­tor. Rais­ing min­i­mum va­ca­tion en­ti­tle­ments from two weeks to three af­ter five years of em­ploy­ment. Re­quir­ing em­ploy­ers to give fair no­tice of sched­ule changes, and in some cases pay three hours of wages if a worker’s shift is can­celled with less than 48 hours no­tice. Of­fer­ing 10 days of per­sonal emer­gency leave each year, two of them paid. Mak­ing it eas­ier for tem­po­rary, build­ing ser­vices and home and com­mu­nity care work­ers to union­ize.

These are hardly Cadil­lac work en­hance­ments, es­pe­cially at a time where tem­po­rary and pre­car­i­ous em­ploy­ment in the sec­tor is grow­ing faster than ever in Canada’s strong­est econ­omy. These changes don’t make a so­cial­ist utopia. We’re still lag­ging be­hind many Cana­dian ju­ris­dic­tions. And New York state al­ready has a $15 min­i­mum wage.

Con­cerns from all sides should be heard and ad­dressed. But ul­ti­mately these changes, care­fully ad­min­is­tered and rolled out, will im­prove the lot of On­tario work­ers and for that rea­son de­serve sup­port.

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