GUEST COLUMNIST: Let's embrace $15 minimum wage

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I had a chance to talk about the value of decent work in the Flamborough Review as a guest columnist recently:

Originally published on August 22, 2017 at https://www.flamboroughreview.com/opinion-story/7514719-guest-columnist-let-s-embrace-15-minimum-wage/

Today, more than 1.7 million workers in this province are not earning enough at their jobs to pull themselves or their families out of poverty. They are Ontario’s working poor.

Wages have not kept pace with the increasing cost of living, and as a result, many low wage workers are forced to make impossible choices — pay the rent or feed the family; heat the house or purchase a birthday present for a child.

According to a report released just last week by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Ontario office, over the past decade and a half, the bottom half of families raising children in Ontario saw its share of earnings fall to 19 per cent of total labour market income between 2000 and 2015.

Low wage workers are trying their best — sometimes working two, three or four part-time jobs to make ends meet for their families. It’s simply not enough.

Ontario’s minimum wage has continually fallen behind what employees need to earn at their jobs to cover basic necessities such as food, housing, utilities or transportation.

Bill 148, the provincial government’s labour reforms package, would implement a $15 per hour minimum wage with annual cost-of-living increases as a wage floor for workers.

A $15 per hour minimum wage isn’t just right thing to do, it makes economic sense.

Higher wages are a win-win.

A $15 minimum wage will be good for employees, as it will help lift families out of poverty, reducing the burden of social service and health-care costs to taxpayers.

Over the last five years, the Hamilton Living Wage initiative has been making the case that higher wages are good for businesses, too. A report from McMaster University found almost all of Hamilton’s living wage employers see a business case in favour of the living wage — especially when it comes to recruiting and retaining good workers.

In the Hamilton and Burlington area, dozens of local businesses have committed to paying their employees a living wage of $15.85. They’ve seen positive results such as increased productivity, less sick time and cost savings associated with lower turnover.

(You can listen to employers discuss those benefits in their own words by visiting www.betterwayalliance.ca)

Higher wages are good for Ontario’s communities, too. When workers earn more, that’s money spent at local businesses on local goods and services, which helps to drive economic growth and create jobs. That’s just one of the reasons why more than 40 prominent Ontario economists support the idea of a $15 minimum wage.

Where higher minimum wages have been implemented in other North American jurisdictions, employment has actually increased and local economies are thriving.

Let’s embrace a $15 minimum wage and help build a stronger, healthier and more resilient Ontario.

Tom Cooper is director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction and a co-founder of the Ontario Living Wage Network. He tweets at @TomCoopster.


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