By most measures, things are poised to improve for many Canadian workers. The province of Alberta plans to implement a $15.00 minimum next year and Ontario, via Bill 148, which is currently being considered by the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, intends to increase the minimum wage first to $14.00 in 2018 and then to $15.00 in 2019.
Good news, right? Well, it depends on who you ask. While most Canadians
approve of the intended wage increases, a good portion of the country oppose
The strongest opposition comes from those who are least in need of an
increase, and who will probably never know the hardship faced by those working
for the minimum wage. That’s right, the prospect of a higher minimum wage is
opposed by the wealthiest among us.
Curiously, according to a Forum Research Poll, this is a point where the
wealthy and the youth find common ground – they each have misgivings about the
minimum wage increase. The Poll found that 36% of those earning at least $100k
per year oppose the increase, while the youth oppose it at a rate of 35%.
Forty-one percent of those with children also oppose the increase.
So how to explain the apparent agreement between the youth and the
wealthy? For the wealthy, particularly the business owners, the opposition is likely
borne of a desire to keep labour costs down. Labour costs are often among the
highest costs faced by a business, and owners have a long history of advocating
against paying their workers are living wage, often warning that an increase in
labour costs will force them to pursue more automation to reduce their labour
force(s). Of course this ignores the theory that if workers earn more they’ll
spend more, often profiting the very businesses that resist the wage increases.
With the youth, one theory is that their resistance to a higher minimum
wage is a response to fears, stoked by the business community, of increased
automation and a labour reduction. And with the naysayers to the proposed
increases strongly voicing their opposition, it’s only natural to have
concerns. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), for instance,
is campaigning against the increase, saying that “A high minimum wage will
reduce employment through “hiring freezes, slower employment growth, or direct
job cuts during an economic downturn.”
What is a youth who hears such
statements expected to feel other than concern for their job prospects? The
CFIB has also argued that “most minimum wage earners are young, live with
family members, and are not from low-income households.”
the CFIB should not be taken as infallible on either point. A study
by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
has a different view, finding that, in British Columbia, 82% of minimum wage
workers are 20 years old or older. The study also found that the sky will not
fall if the wage increases to $15.00.
quibbling over who is or is not a minimum wage worker clouds the true issue,
which is that full-time minimum wage workers in Canada are often forced to live
in poverty. In a wealthy country, that’s
Other G8 countries have established minimum wages close to
or even above $15.00 and have done so without the economic collapse predicted
by the doom and gloom sector. In France, for example, the minimum wage is 9.76
Euro ($14.63 in Canadian dollars), while in Germany, the economic powerhouse of
the EU, the minimum wage is 8.84 Euro ($13.25 in Canadian dollars). In
Australia, the minimum wage is presently 18.29 AUD ($18.30 in Canadian
dollars). Not only are these rates higher than the highest minimum wage
currently offered in Canada ($13.00 in Nunavut), the citizens are often less
burdened by the types of secondary costs that overwhelm many Canadians, such as
tuition fees and the costs of daycare services.
nothing else, it seems safe to conclude that the economy will not collapse when
the minimum wage rises to $15.00. Youth who worry over the prospect of
diminished job opportunities should take some comfort in the fact that the CCPA
study found that if the minimum wage were increased to $15.00 in BC, any
reduction in employment would be modest (i.e. less than 1%).
As for a business
community that cries poor whenever the prospect is raised of paying a minimum
wage that even approximates a living wage, well, we can only remind it of the
words of U.S. President Roosevelt when he criticized businesses for paying low
wages: "No business which depends for existence on paying less than
living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country."
In Ontario, the minimum wage has been far too low for far too long, and
presently stands at $11.40 per hour. In practical terms, this means that even
with two people working full-time at minimum wage, it would be near impossible
to live and work in a city like Toronto. Rent would eat up almost all of the
income and keep the wage-earners trapped in a cycle of poverty. This is unacceptable. People
in Ontario simply cannot live with the dignity they deserve whilst receiving a wage
that keeps them in a cycle of poverty. At the very least, the workers of
Ontario, and indeed workers everywhere, deserve to be recognized and
appreciated for the work they do. They deserve a path out of poverty. The first
step on this path is a $15.00 minimum wage.