Bill 148: Choos­ing both peo­ple and profit

The Hal­ton Poverty Round­table wants a liv­able in­come for every­one in Hal­ton by 2026

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - LEENA SHARMA Leena Sharma Seth is di­rec­tor of Com­mu­nity En­gage­ment for the Hal­ton Poverty Round­table.

I couldn’t help but no­tice that since the an­nounce­ment was made by the On­tario gov­ern­ment for a progressive min­i­mum wage raise that would see us at $15 by 2019 (Bill 148), we have seen no short­age of voices fore­cast­ing doom and gloom for the econ­omy. The voices of the over 50,000 cit­i­zens across the Hal­ton Re­gion that are cur­rently ek­ing out a liv­ing on min­i­mum wage were con­spic­u­ously ab­sent. The Hal­ton Poverty Round­table’s vi­sion is to see ev­ery res­i­dent of Hal­ton with ac­cess to a liv­able in­come by 2026. As a multi-sec­tor cat­a­lyst which brings to­gether re­sources and part­ners around in­no­va­tive and sys­tems-fo­cused so­lu­tions around poverty, we em­braced in­come se­cu­rity so­lu­tions be­cause of the mem­bers at our ta­ble with the lived ex­pe­ri­ence of poverty. The voices that have been telling us for the over six years that we have been work­ing to­gether, it’s not just about shorter hous­ing wait-lists and more food banks, it’s about hav­ing the dig­nity of choice, the dig­nity of be­ing able to live and not just sub­sist.

There is a real need to change the ques­tions we are ask­ing around Bill 148. In­stead of “How will busi­nesses af­ford to keep their doors open with this com­ing wage raise?”, the ques­tion I be­lieve we need to start with is “Should some­one work­ing full-time have to ac­cess so­cial ser­vices (food banks, On­tario Elec­tric­ity Sup­port Pro­gram, etc.) to sup­port them­selves or their fam­ily?”

Here are some ad­di­tional facts to con­sider:

The min­i­mum wage was frozen for 12 of the 20 years be­tween 1995 and 2015

62 per cent of small- and medium-sized busi­ness own­ers SUP­PORT a $15 or higher min­i­mum wage (47 per cent about right plus 15 per cent too lit­tle) (See Cam­paign Re­search, June 2017)

Nearly 30 per cent of On­tario’s work­force earns less than $15 an hour, which means they are al­ready be­low the poverty line, even if they work full-time. Poverty wages are bad for work­ers and bad for the econ­omy be­cause their low wages pre­vent them from be­ing cus­tomers at lo­cal shops, be­yond the bare ne­ces­si­ties.

The ev­i­dence shows 58 per cent of em­ploy­ers pay­ing less than $15 an hour are big com­pa­nies (100 or more em­ploy­ees); and only 23 per cent are small busi­ness.

This past June, 53 prom­i­nent Cana­dian econ­o­mists signed a let­ter stat­ing rais­ing the On­tario min­i­mum wage to $15 by Jan­uary 1, 2019 is a good idea and is eco­nom­i­cally sound. They con­clude that tak­ing all the re­search on min­i­mum wage to­gether shows that rais­ing the min­i­mum wage leads to lit­tle or no job loss. In fact, rais­ing the min­i­mum wage makes for bet­ter, more pro­duc­tive work­places.

Novem­ber 5 to 11 was Liv­ing Wage Week. Make a point to do some re­search on the other side of your views. Whether you are for or against a liv­able in­come. It will cer­tainly make for a bet­ter con­ver­sa­tion when you can un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate the var­i­ous sides of this is­sue.

The re­port “Thriv­ing in the City: What does it cost to live a health life?”, re­leased this past Septem­ber by the Welles­ley In­sti­tute shares that, based on iden­ti­cal re­search com­pleted in Mis­sis­sauga and Toronto, for a sin­gle, work­ing-aged in­di­vid­ual, be­tween the ages of 25 and 40, the cost of thriv­ing is be­tween $46,186 and $55,432 af­ter tax. This isn’t a lux­ury life­style by any means; it means enough to af­ford things like per­sonal care prod­ucts, phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, trans­porta­tion, etc.

The re­sponse to poverty in our com­mu­ni­ties must be a col­lec­tive re­sponse. It’s a false di­chotomy to pit so­cial jus­tice hearts against busi­ness; the real prob­lem is poverty and the so­lu­tion is work­ing to­gether as a com­mu­nity. It was Ma­hatma Gandhi who rightly said that “the true mea­sure of any so­ci­ety can be found in how it treats its most vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers.”

NIL SENDIL PHOTO

Peo­ple supporting the $15 and Fair­ness cam­paign demon­strate in front of Queen’s Park last Jan­uary.

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