By Muriel Draaisma
For Christine, the high cost of living in the Greater Toronto Area means juggling four part-time jobs. It means one long bus ride after another, borrowing money from her parents when she doesn't have enough and living in a cramped basement apartment in Richmond Hill, Ont.
Christine, 45, a single woman whose last name is being withheld to protect her employment, says a minimum wage increase to $14 in January 2018 improved her life, but still her day is long.
She gets up at 8 a.m., leaves at 8:30 a.m., spends about an hour and 15 minutes on a bus to get to work, often works two jobs a day, then returns home sometimes after 11 p.m. There are no luxuries.
"Honestly, nothing can get cut because I'm down to bare bones. I don't have TV or anything like that," she told CBC Radio's Metro Morning. "I don't have any entertainment."
Christine is not alone. Labour organizers say not everybody can afford to leave the GTA for a more affordable life.
The high cost of living, especially soaring rent, means being priced out of certain neighbourhoods, areas of the city and even the city itself. Effectively, it also means minimum wage workers are priced in, as in stuck in the GTA with limited choices.
Organizers say a planned increase in the minimum wage to $15, put on hold by the provincial government, would help low-income workers, but they know getting the hike with Doug Ford in power will now be a fight. The previous Liberal government planned to increase the minimum wage to $15 on Jan. 1.
'Completely limited' choices
Deena Ladd, a co-ordinator with the Workers' Action Centre, a worker-based organization in Toronto that works to improve the lives of people who earn low wages and have unstable employment, told Metro Morning that the high cost of living means low-income people have to live on the outer edges of Toronto's inner suburbs, such as Etobicoke or Scarborough, and sometimes even further.
Transportation costs are "huge" and a commute to work can be one to two hours and lots of time on public transit. People are living in housing that is "not great" and in "disrepair," she said.
They often have to share one-bedroom apartments with other people, live in units that have bed bugs or cockroaches, or where windows don't open, and where they are constantly thinking about safety, Ladd added.
"Not only do you have to deal with the stress of making low wages and trying to make ends meet, but also you are also constantly dealing with looking for housing, looking for better housing or dealing with the appalling conditions that come with that housing," she said.
It's hard to find a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto for less under $1,000, Ladd added. "I think the question should be: Is it reasonable to charge the kinds of rates that we are seeing in the city?" she said.
"You have to take what you can get," she said. "If it means moving to Pickering, or if it means living in a rooming house, you have to do what you have to do."
Ladd noted the government has not yet introduced legislation to freeze the minimum wage at $14.
"We're hoping that they will listen to the people and will actually understand the significant contribution that happens to people's lives when they have more money in their pockets," she said.
"Businesses thrive, but also, they can actually start to pay for better housing, some fundamentals, again not luxuries, but basic necessities."
Province to 'pause' minimum wage hike
Last week, Labour Minister Laurie Scott told reporters that the provincial government is going to "pause" the minimum wage hike at $14.
Business groups have lobbied the province saying the most recent increase prompted them to raise prices and cut staff hours. The minimum wage increased from $11.60 to $14 an hour on Jan. 1.
"The increase of 20 per cent this year was a lot for businesses to absorb, so we're putting a pause on the minimum wage at $14 an hour," Scott told reporters at Queen's Park.
She said the decision was made to give businesses the "chance to catch up" and added that the government was also helping low-income people with tax breaks and decreases in hydro and gas prices.
Scott said the province is committed to keeping the minimum wage at $14 but also that recent job losses can be partly attributed to a "rapid" increase in the minimum wage.
She added that the province is committed to cutting red tape, regulation and taxes to stimulate the economy and is reviewing labour reforms, namely changes to employment standards, brought in by the Liberals. She said the government will make a decision this fall on whether to repeal the reforms.
"Our goal is to have good paying jobs in the province of Ontario."
Community, labour groups say 'pause' in minimum wage hike will affect nearly 2M workers
Community and labour groups are urging Ontario Premier Doug Ford not to scrap the planned hike in the minimum wage to $15.
The so-called Fight For $15 & Fairness movement says the increase from the current $14 an hour would have affected nearly two million workers in the province.
Labour Minister Laurie Scott confirmed on Wednesday the Ford government will not go ahead with an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour scheduled for Jan. 1. Instead, the minimum wage will stay at $14 an hour, and Scott did not give a timetable for any future increases.
The minimum wage increased from $11.60 to $14 an hour on January 1st, drawing complaints from businesses and prompting some to raise prices and cut staff hours and benefits.
Critics have said the government's decision to stall the wage hike will hurt the very people it claims to champion.
By Jamie West
During question period Monday, the NDP’s labour critic, Jamie West, said that by cancelling the minimum wage increase, Doug Ford is taking more than $2,000 a year out of the pocket of minimum wage earners.
West said that with that kind of financial strain being inflicted on workers, it’s a shame that Doug Ford has been completely focused on his grudge-match against the City of Toronto during the September sitting of the legislature – including an all-night session in the early hours of Monday – and not the jobs and wages people need to build a better life.
“We could be at Queen’s Park to take action on increasing the minimum wage or creating better conditions for all Ontario workers. Instead, we are once again using our time and resources to debate a bill that violates Ontarians’ rights and freedoms,” said West, MPP for Sudbury.
“Why is slashing Toronto city council a more important to this government than the wages and well-being of workers across the province? “
Last week, Doug Ford’s minister of labour penned an op-ed boasting about her government’s plans to freeze the minimum wage at $14 an hour, cancelling the upcoming increase and ripping $2,000 a year out of the hands of the lowest-wage workers in the province.
“Hard working Ontarians should not have to continue to struggle in poverty because of a wage that has not kept pace with the cost of living,” said West. “For Mr. Ford to cancel the promised minimum wage raise at all – and without a minute of debate or consultation – is wrong, and it’s dragging Ontario backwards.”
Hamilton News: Hands Off Hamilton rally kicks off opposition to Doug Ford's government, say activists
By Kevin Werner
If Premier Doug Ford can use the notwithstanding clause to push through his agenda, the labour movement will have in reserve its own general-strike strategy as a counter move, said Anthony Marco, president of the Hamilton and District Labour Council.
“It took years to build up to the Days of Action, when people were prepared to do what they had to do,” he said. “(Ford) has to understand we have in our back pocket the general strike that we can shoot down the premier. We can shut this city down. We can shut this province down.”
However, before Ontario’s labour movement can pull out what Marco called an extreme tool, the Sept. 15 Hands Off Hamilton rally at city hall demonstrated the first of what labour, poverty and environmental activists hope to be a growing community that will become the bulwark against the Progressive Conservative government’s agenda.
More than 130 people attended the 90-minute rally, including various union representatives, Hamilton Acorn, the Hamilton Tenants Solidarity Network, anti-poverty activists and teachers as they fight the government’s policies.
Speaker after speaker railed against cuts to mental health, changes to the sex-education curriculum, and the expected gutting of the former Liberal government's labour legislation that, among other things, extends sick days and raises the minimum wage to $15 per hour on Jan. 1, 2019.
Marco said later that the growing opposition to Ford’s government is different from any protest movement in the past. The rally, organized by the Hamilton and District Labour Council and the Ontario Federation of Labour, was part of a provincewide series of actions by labour activists.
“This isn’t a specific thing we are targeting,” he said. “We are targeting somebody who is very symbolic of a lot of the ills that are going on.”
Lee Reed of the Hamilton Tenants Solidarity Network, which is involved in a rent strike in Stoney Creek, said Ford is a “trumped-up Harris,” referring to former PC premier Mike Harris.
The public can’t rely on politicians or governments anymore, he said, and must band together and organize for themselves.
“It’s a capitalistic system that has left out the working class,” Reed said.
Despite the turnout, the people who attended the event seemed motivated to build upon what Marco called a growing movement. He pointed out that next year is the 100th anniversary of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, which laid the foundation for future labour reforms in the country.
“It would be great if we got 10,000 people out here. But if we got 10,000 people and nobody was prepared to mobilize, it wouldn’t do us any good. If we get 150 people and (they) were ready to mobilize and do something, that’s way more valuable,” he said.
“If it takes a year or two to get there, people will eventually get there.”
Workers across the province rallied in support of $15 minimum wage.
By Sara Mojtehedzadeh
Workers rallied in support of a $15 minimum wage, across Toronto and 15 other cities Saturday, as the Ontario government doubles down on its pledge to cancel what it’s calling a “crassly political” wage bump scheduled for January 2019.
“We cannot survive below $15 an hour,” said valet driver Abdullahi Bare, 65, who attended one rally of about 50 people at Premier Doug Ford’s constituency office. Eight other rallies were scheduled to take place across the GTA.
“We have to work two to three jobs. We cannot meet with our family. You come home to sleep only. It’s a very difficult life,” Bare said.
The legislation introduced last year under Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne resulted in a $2.60 increase in the minimum wage to $14 an hour in 2018, and $15 by 2019, and also introduced sweeping labour reforms aimed at tackling precarious work.
Premier Doug Ford has previously said he will freeze the minimum wage at $14 an hour. In an opinion piece for the Financial Post published Friday, Labour Minister Laurie Scott said her government would stick to that promise, describing the 20 per cent increase as “crassly political” and “the highest and fastest in our history.”
“As minister of labour, I always favour higher wages. Incomes should never stagnate. There is a need for the minimum wage to increase as the cost of living goes up. Unfortunately, the previous Liberal government chose to put the burden of an abrupt and dramatic increase on the back of our small businesses,” Scott said.
Increasing the minimum wage was outside the scope of the two-year review of provincial labour laws leading to The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, known as Bill 148, but numerous anti-poverty and worker advocates made submissions to the process supporting the move.
A group of Canadian economists also endorsed the wage bump in an open letter to government that said it “makes good economic sense” and could generate “substantial benefit to low-wage workers, their families and the economy as a whole.”
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has called on the new provincial government to repeal the entire bill, including 2019’s minimum wage hike, because it has created a “number of compounding changes that created greater administrative and financial pressure on employers.”
Bill 148, the most significant reforms to the province’s labour laws in decades, also enacted two paid, job-protected emergency leave days for all workers, increased holiday entitlement, mandated equal pay for casual and part-time workers doing the same job as full-time employees, and boosted protections for temp agency workers.
Earlier this month, a ministry spokesperson told the Star that Scott was “considering the recent changes made” in Bill 148 and “their impact on the overall economy.”
Naiima Farah, who is running for city council in Ward 1, Etobicoke North, and has lived in the area since she was three years old, said the minimum-wage increase was a “start to breaking the cycle of inter generational poverty.”
A study by the province’s economic watchdog, the Financial Accountability Office, also predicted about 50,000 people could lose their jobs due to the minimum wage increase. In her Friday op-ed, Scott said Ontario lost 59,300 part-time jobs immediately after the minimum wage “surged up” to $14 from $11.60.
In July, the province’s jobless rate fell to 5.4 per cent, the lowest in 18 years. In August that figure increased to 5.7 per cent with a loss of 80,100 jobs, most of which were part time. Year over year, the unemployment rate is unchanged.
A study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that a minimum-wage increase to $15 an hour would mean an extra $1,465 in the pockets of the working poor, as compared to Ford’s plan to freeze the rate at $14 and eliminate provincial income taxes on those making less than $30,000. The report found that two-thirds of the 4.9 million Ontarians making less than $30,000 already pay no income tax.
In 2015, the Ontario Living Wage Network calculated Toronto’s living wage as being $18.52.
By Gord Young
About a dozen people hit the streets in downtown North Bay Saturday to help garner support for the Fight for $15 and Fairness.
The volunteers with the province-wide campaign were busy collecting signatures for a petition calling on Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government to proceed with a planned minimum wage increase promised by the previous Liberal regime.
He said Premier Doug Ford has signalled that he is not supportive of the wage hike for low-income earners and that the campaign is concerned the increase may be nixed.
“Because we’re worried about it, we’re talking with people about their rights,” said Hunt, noting the volunteers are not only speaking to people on the streets about the minimum wage increase, but other workplace changes that came under Bill 148 – the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act – which was passed last year.
He said that includes fair scheduling, equal pay and paid vacations.
Hunt said the campaign believes that there’s a lot of support in Ontario for the increase in minimum wage and other workplace enhancements. And he said the campaign aims to demonstrate that to the new government.
“We think that two third of Ontario actually want the increase,” said Hunt, noting Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli, Ontario’s finance minister, will be asked to present the petition at Queen’s Park at the end of the month.
If Fedeli refuses, he said another provincial member of Parliament from another party will be asked.
Fedeli, in interview last month, didn’t say what direction the province will be taking when it comes to the planned minimum wage hike. But his comments were not supportive of the move.
“We heard loudly and clearly from businesses how many jobs would be lost in Ontario,” said Fedeli, referring to province-wide consultations last year on Bill 148. “And, we saw immediately – just as the Financial Accountability Office had predicted – we lost 50,000 jobs in January.”
Fedeli noted how the premier has said Ontario is open for business again. And he said that means “lower taxes, lower hydro rates and less red tape.”
“A big part will be how we handle the fallout of Bill 148 and the amount of companies that have left Ontario and the amount of companies that have not hired,” he said.
The minimum wage rose last year to $14, from $11.60 an hour. And many businesses have said another increase in January is too much too fast.
But Hunt said the campaign believes that’s a position propped up by large corporations that have long been “building wealth on the backs of workers earning low wages.”
“For decades, people in Ontario have been living in low-wage economy,” he said, of the importance to that the planned wage hike in January proceed. “When we help the lowest earners we help everybody.”
By Brock Ormond
A small, but mighty local group was part of a province-wide movement to prevent a delay of a minimum wage increase Saturday afternoon.
About 30 people gathered for a rally in support of the “Fight for $15 and Fairness Campaign” in front of MPP Todd Smith’s office in Rossmore, organized by the Quinte Labour Council and the Kingston & District Labour Council.
This rally was held to protest against the plan by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and big businesses to convince Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government to repeal Bill 148 (the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act), freeze minimum wage at the current $14 an hour and cut taxes for minimum wage earners.
The group’s intention with the rally was to give people the right to fair and equal wages for work across the board to keep up with the higher cost of modern living.
The minimum wage is set to go up to $15 per hour as of January 1, 2019.
This “Day of Action” event marks the 15-week period leading up to the $15 an hour pay rate.
President of the Quinte Labour Council Margaret Bourgoine says 66 percent of workers in Ontario are in favour of a minimum wage increase.
She says she wants Doug Ford to live up to his campaign promise to be “for the people” and stand up to the business lobby to provide workers with their right to an honest wage.
Lesley Jamieson is a member of the Kingston & District Labour Council and a supporter of the Fight for $15 and Fairness Campaign.
She says they want to send a strong message to the PC government to not bend to big businesses who are calling for the minimum wage freeze.
Chris Snooks, Chief Steward of Local 00641 UNDE Kingston, says that he came out to the rally to support equality in the local workforce.
For more information on the Fight for $15 and Fairness Campaign, go to their website.
By Valerie MacDonald
The newly-formed Northumberland Coalition for Social Justice is supporting the upcoming Northumberland Labour Council rally at MPP David Piccini’s Cobourg constituency office this Saturday.
The event focuses on the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s “roll back” request pertaining to the New Employment Standards Act (ESA),” Coalition spokesperson Derek Blackadder said in an interview Wednesday.
“The House (of Commons) is being called back this week,” Blackadder said suggesting that the legislation could be dealt with quickly.
The local labour council is joining other groups across the province bringing the message to Ontario MPPs not to change the Act (which addresses issues ranging from minimum wage to equity), Blackadder said.
“It is now expected that the Tories will go after not just the scheduled increase in the minimum wage but the other improvements that were made to the ESA last year (by the Liberal Government)…and that this will start when Queen’s Park reconvenes in order to attach a ‘notwithstanding’ preamble to Bill 5,” Blackadder stated in a wide-ranging invitation to the rally.
The local rally is scheduled for noon Saturday, Sept. 15 at MPP Piccini’s office on Division Street in the same plaza as Papa John’s and across from the No Frills plaza. Asked if the MPP would attend the rally, Blackadder indicated he didn’t think that would be the case.
Piccini did not respond to a request by the News Now Network about whether he would be there.
Due to a conflict last summer, Piccini said at that time he could not attend another rally at his office organized by the Northumberland Coalition Against Poverty – but a meeting was held the following week. That rally’s focus was the Tory Government’s announcement that it was cancelling the “basic income” pilot program. Lindsay was the closest area where it was in place.
It is because of these, and other anticipated government actions, that a steering committee of people from various organizations in Northumberland has come together in an attempt to put the Northumberland Social Justice Committee (NCSJ) in place, said Blackadder, a retired union staffer. He predicts there will be “horrendous challenges over the next few years” and that co-ordinated activities through a Coalition, rather than working in local organizational silos, would be beneficial.
There are 45 people signed up on the Coalition’s e-mail and individual meetings are taking place to determine what organizations will be part of it, Blackadder explained.
In a release to union activists, the process is described this way: “The NCSJ is a coalition of individuals and organizations committed to social justice and based in Northumberland County. The Coalition was created for the purpose of mutual assistance and solidarity. It undertakes activities as a Coalition but also organizes its members to support social justice actions led by member organizations and others.”
“The NCSJ is definitely a work in progress. We have a steering committee composed of Kim McArthur-Jackson (Cobourg Queer Collective) and Derek Blackadder (retired union) as Co-Chairs along with Linda MacKenzie-Nicholas (Northumberland Health Coalition), Dan Tobin (Labour Council) and Deborah O’Connor (Northumberland Coalition Against Poverty).”
Individuals can also be part of the Coalition, Blackadder said.
An open meeting for the NCSJ will be held Sept. 22 in Cobourg but the exact location has not yet been confirmed. For more information go to email@example.com. The Coalition also has a Facebook page.
North Bay labour leaders will join their counterparts from more than 20 provincial ridings Saturday launching the 15-week countdown campaign to Ontario’s $15 minimum wage, due to come into effect Jan. 1.
The Nipissing Decent Work committee will canvass for petition signatures from 2-4 pm at Main and Ferguson streets, followed by a neighbourhood barbecue at 5 pm.
The committee is asking Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli to “stand with the people of Ontario against the attempt by corporate lobbyists to roll back Ontario’s new labour laws.”
It claims “big business is leading a campaign to cancel the $15 minimum wage and roll back the two paid sick days, as well as other laws that came into effect this year.”
It says the corporate campaign to repeal Bill 148, The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, is being spearheaded by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.