• CBC News: Protesters rally against Ford government at Queen's Park

    Sweeping changes by new provincial government include ending cap-and-trade, repealing sex-ed curriculum

    Around 150 people gathered outside Queen's Park on Saturday to rally against several changes by the new Ontario government.

    Chester Madrazo, one of the organizers, said the morning rally was in support of public services and marginalized people.

    Premier Doug Ford has vowed to bring sweeping changes to the province, including ending cap-and-trade and repealing the current sex-ed curriculum.

    Outside the legislature, demonstrators held "15 and Fairness" signs, condemned changes to the provincial curriculum, expressed worry about the environment and showed concern for potential budget cuts to social programs. 

    Indygo Arscott, 16, spoke against the last-minute decision to cancel curriculum-writing sessions aimed at bringing more Indigenous content into Ontario classrooms.

    "While I am only a child, my heart lies with the children of the future," said Arscott to the crowd.

    Incorporating Indigenous knowledge and history into the K-12 curriculum is crucial step in reconciliation, Arscott said.

    "We have a right to view ourselves ... in education systems. We are a multidimensional people, and we deserve to be recognized as more than our trauma."

    Arscott, who will be going into Grade 11, fears that recent education decisions will leave young people "fearful and uninformed." 

    "You must teach the curriculum you want to reflect the future," Arscott said.

    Carolyn Ferns of the Ontario Coalition for Better Childcare said she's worried the new government will make cuts to childcare.

    It took years of consultation and organizing to get the new childcare spaces promised by the previous government, and families are depending on them, Ferns said.

    'When I saw the first things that the Ford government was attacking, they're all attacks on children," said Ferns.

    "If it's abandoning asylum seekers, those are attacks on families. If it's repealing the sex-ed curriculum, those are attacks on our kids."

    Madrazo is troubled by many of Ford's decisions and said Saturday's rally was "just the beginning."

    He said there will be starting an online group called Ontarians for Social Progress where people can organize and discuss various issues.

    Madrazo added that organizers are not looking at the Ford government as enemies but just want to work together to ensure social programs stand.

    Read the CBC News Story

  • Toronto Star: Ontario government hiring freeze ices plan to strengthen workplace inspections

    By Sarah Mojtehedzadeh

    The Ontario government’s hiring freeze has paused plans to double the Ministry of Labour’s complement of enforcement officers charged with investigating wage theft and other workplace abuses.

    Legislation passed last November under premier Kathleen Wynne included a promise to hire 175 new employment standards officers in order to inspect one in 10 Ontario workplaces and resolve workplace complaints within 90 days. The pledge came after both worker advocates and some business groups argued the ministry’s enforcement efforts should be improved.

    Around 75 of the new officers have already been hired, but the remaining job postings appear to be on hold amid the government-wide hiring freeze the incoming Doug Ford administration ordered last week. Ford’s Progressive Conservatives take power on Friday.

    “Until the new government can put in place an expenditure management strategy, the Ontario Public Service is implementing additional expenditure restrictions which includes a freeze on new external hiring, with the exception of essential frontline services,” said Janet Deline, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour.

    Currently, the processing time for employment standards claims — which involve issues like unpaid wages, overtime pay, or failure to pay minimum wage — is five months, Deline said.

    The ministry did not answer questions from the Star about whether it is meeting its stated goal of inspecting one in 10 workplaces because it is “currently in caretaker mode and cannot comment on future government commitments.”

    In 2017/2018, Deline said the ministry conducted 3,507 proactive employment standards inspections. There are 999,766 workplaces in Ontario according to Statistics Canada, although proactive inspections are focused on non-union employers.

    TOP STORIES. IN YOUR INBOX: For the day’s top news from the Star’s award-winning journalists, sign up for our daily headlines newsletter.

    Independent academic research commissioned for a two-year review of the province’s employment laws found that victims of wage theft across Ontario lost out on $28 million from 2011 to 2015 because the Ministry of Labour failed to collect the pay owed to them.

    Last year, the government’s rate of recovery when individual workers filed claims for unpaid entitlements was around one-third, according to data obtained by the Star through a Freedom of Information request.

    Proactive inspections, which are initiated at the behest of the ministry rather than workers coming forward to complain, often at the expense of their jobs, have proven to be far more effective in recovering stolen wages. The recovery rate for these investigations, which Bill 148 was meant to expand by hiring more enforcement officers, was almost 100 per cent.

    In his five months as a construction site supervisor, Mississauga resident Felix Toro worked 15-hour days, racked up hundreds of hours of overtime, incurred thousands of dollars of business expenses on behalf of his boss, and ended up being owed in excess of $17,700 in unpaid entitlements.

    Those were the conclusions a Ministry of Labour investigation landed on in July 2016, which ordered Toro’s employer to pay up. Toro has still not received his money.

    For Toro, it meant maxed out credit cards, leaning on friends, and giving up on buying a house with his pregnant wife.

    “I came here to work hard. It’s about a good life here where you can raise your children,” says Toro, who trained as a dentist in his native Colombia. “That’s so frustrating for me.”

    In a submission to the province’s so-called Changing Workplaces Review, which led to Bill 148, a submission from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce argued that “many of the workplace challenges government is seeking to address can be solved by improving employer and employee awareness of workplace rights and subsequently enforcing, with greater regularity, violations of those rights.”

    Deena Ladd of the Toronto-based Workers’ Action Centre said numerous research studies have shown that “enforcement is critical.”

    “You have to make sure that our rights and protections that we rely on in the workplace are not just words on a piece of paper.”

    Read the Toronto Star Story

  • published $15 & Fairness Outreach Blitz in Wychwood Barns in Events 2018-07-12 13:33:56 -0400

    $15 & Fairness Outreach Blitz in Wychwood Barns

    Ontario workers are expecting a $15 minimum wage on January 1st 2019. We are ready and organized to defend the rights that we won, and push for more. 

    We'll be speaking to the St Pauls community at Wychwood Barns farmers market to collect petitions that we will deliver to MPP's at Queens Park to make our voices heard! 

    We'll meet first at the Starbucks at the corner of St Claire and Christie Station before heading to the market. Call Jared at 647-273-5285 to find us if you're coming a bit late.

    July 28, 2018 at 10:30am
    Intersection of Christie and St. Clair
    687 St Clair Ave W
    Toronto, ON M6C 1B2
    Google map and directions

  • published Petitioning 101: Political Education Training in Events 2018-07-12 13:22:47 -0400

    Petitioning 101: Political Education Training

    Want to learn more about how to collect signatures on the campaign petition? Petitioning is key to show politicians how much support there is for our demands, while we connect with supporters who want to get involved. Join us to build your expertise and awareness around petitioning and how to do it effectively.

    When: Wednesday July 25th at 5:30pm to 8:00pm
    Where: 720 Spadina Ave Unit 223

    July 25, 2018 at 5:30pm

  • published $15 & Fairness Outreach Blitz at Junior Caribana in Events 2018-07-12 13:15:22 -0400

    $15 & Fairness Outreach Blitz at Junior Caribana

    Ready to do outreach about our rights at work while jamming to some summer tunes? Then make sure to join us at the Neilson Park for the Junior Carnival. We’ll be tabling all day but if you have just an hour or two to spare, please come out. 

    To locate our table, please call Linda at 647-299-5387. And of course, don’t forget to RSVP to let us know you’ll be there

    Where: Junior Caribana at Neilson Park, meet at Neilson House.
    When: 12:00 pm to 3:00pm.

    July 21, 2018 at 12pm
    Neilson House
    1575 Neilson Rd
    Scarborough, ON M1B 5Z7
    Google map and directions

  • published Toronto-Wide Organizing Meeting in Events 2018-07-12 13:04:36 -0400

    Toronto-Wide Organizing Meeting

    We are the people that Premier Doug Ford says he represents, so let’s get him prepared to add decent work to the agenda. Join us for this next organizing meeting to find out how we can make this happen and what is next in our campaign.

    Please RSVP so we know how many snacks to provide! Share this event with others who may want to get involved.

    Snacks served at 5:30 pm
    Meeting begins at 6:00 pm, finishes at 8:00 pm

    July 31, 2018 at 5:30pm

  • published $15 & Fairness Outreach Blitz at Big on Bloor in Events 2018-07-12 12:49:09 -0400

    $15 & Fairness Outreach Blitz at Big on Bloor

    Ontario workers are expecting a $15 minimum wage on January 1st 2019. We are ready and organized to defend the rights that we won, and push for more. 

    Join us at Big on Bloor for an outreach blitz to collect petitions that we will deliver to MPP's at Queens Park to make our voices heard! 

    Where: North-west corner of Dufferin and Bloor 
    When: 12:30pm - 2:00pm

    July 21, 2018 at 12:30pm
    Dufferin Station
    1006 Dufferin St
    Toronto, ON M6H 4B5
    Google map and directions

  • published No time to lose, join us in the streets! in Media 2018-07-06 14:05:47 -0400

    No time to lose, join us in the streets!

    With Premier Doug Ford officially sworn in last week, there's no time to lose in the fight for $15 and fairness. As we have been saying since the election, Ontario’s new government has no mandate to take away our $15 minimum wage.

    60% of voters did NOT vote for Ford's plan to cancel the $15 minimum wage, and more than 40% of eligible voters did not vote at all. 

    Doug Ford campaigned to be “for” the people. It is our job to remind the premier, his cabinet, and every MPP that we ARE the people and we expect, demand and deserve a $15 minimum wage and decent work for all.

    Momentum is with us

    Over the past six months, our network of $15 & Fairness supporters has doubled. Every day we are getting phone calls and emails from brand new people who want to get involved. Let's remember, that just 9 days after the provincial election, we succeeded in getting over 2,000 people to march from the Ministry of Labour to Queen's Park (read a recap of the June 16 Decent Work Rally here). 

    Clearly, there is an incredible energy in our communities to defend the workplace rights we have won through grassroots organizing, and push for more! With 2 out 3 people in Ontario supporting a $15 minimum wage, imagine what we can accomplish if we continue our organizing on the ground.

    Announcing the new petition (and other tools)

    To amplify and mobilize our supporters, we have a new petition ready to go (download here). This is a really important tool! Petitions help us demonstrate to politicians just how much of a public support exists for a $15 minimum wage and fair labour laws (so they know to keep their hands off). But also, through the petition, we are able to invite every new person who signs it to come and join our campaign. In fact so many of you reading this email, joined our campaign by signing a petition.

    Along with the petition, we also have new posters that can be printed on 11" x 17" paper and used to decorate the province, especially around the offices of Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs). Let's put as many of these posters up as possible, to send a clear message to the new government: WE are the people, and WE expect and demand paid sick days, equal pay for equal work, fair scheduling, union rights, and so much more!


    Click here to access these and other new (11x17) posters 

    Let's get organized!

    In the weeks ahead, it is crucial that we keep the heat on Members of Provincial Parliament. It is not an option to wait until the provincial legislature convenes, we must act now.

    • Spread the word: Our rights at work are at stake but not everyone is aware of this. Help spread the word by talking to your friends, co-workers and family members. Better yet, use the petition as a conversation tool and ask them to sign if they agree with you.


    Download the new $15 & Fairness petition (legal size paper)

    • Organize a local petitioning action: Grab a friend and head to a busy intersection in your neighbourhood to talk to other residents and ask them to sign the $15 & Fairness petition. After you are done, either mail the petition to the campaign office or drop them off at your local MPP's office (make sure to photocopy them first though, and cut off the personal contact details before you deliver them).
    • Ask your Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) to be a decent work champion: 30 MPPs have already signed our pledge to be a decent work champion. Let's encourage others to do the same. Share this link with your local representative to invite them to sign on.

    • Order a lawn or a window sign: The election may be over, but $15 & Fairness lawn signs stay in the ground! Help us greet newly elected MPPs by decorating our neighbourhoods with window and lawn signs. You can order these signs as well as banners here. If you are a member of a community organization, health centre, union local or place of worship, please ask whether they would like to take and display a banner too!

    Join us at an upcoming event:

    More events are being confirmed. If you are organizing an event in your community please send us the details by filling out this handy form so we can promote it.

    Tuesday, July 10th

    Toronto Organizing Meeting
    5:30 PM - 8:00 PM | 720 Spadina Ave, suite 223 | Click here for the map.
    We are the people that premier-designate Doug Ford says he represents, so let’s get him prepared to add decent work to the agenda. Join us for this next organizing meeting to find out how we can make this happen and what is next in our campaign.
    To RSVP, click here & to spread the word on Facebook, click here

    Saturday, July 14th

    $15 & Fairness Contingent at People’s Rally
    10:30 AM - 11:30 PM | North west corner of University & College | Click here for the map.
    A big rally is going to be held at Queen’s Park in support of public services and the needs of Ontario communities. We are organizing a $15 & Fairness contingent with colorful banners and placards to participate and represent the issues of decent work. Join us, we will meet at 10:30 and the rally will start at 11:00. 
    To RSVP, click here & to spread the word on Facebook, click here

    Sunday, July 15th

    Discussion: Transformative Labour Organizing in Precarious Times
    1:00 PM - 6:00 PM | 720 Spadina Ave, suite 223 | Click here for the map.
    Join the Research Committee on Labour Movements ( and the Workers’ Action Centre for a series of public discussions about transformative organizing efforts taking place in Canada, South Africa, South Korea and the United States. Let's rethink strategies for building movement power from the ground up. This is a FREE event, but space is limited so please RSVP.
    To RSVP and learn more about the speakers, click here

    Tuesday, July 17th

    Toronto Phonebank 
    5:00 PM - 8:00 PM | 720 Spadina Ave, suite 223 | Click here for the map.
    Help us call the hundreds of $15 & Fairness supporters who have joined the campaign in recent weeks. We will thank them, provide an update and ask them to get involved by joining a future action. We will have sample scripts to support you, so come out and don’t be shy! Please let us know you will be there by RSVP’ing so we can make sure to get enough snacks!
    To RSVP, click here & to spread the word on Facebook, click here

    Wednesday, July 18th

    Discussion: Transformative Labour Organizing in Precarious Times
    6:00 PM - 9:00 PM | 720 Spadina Ave, suite 223 | Click here for the map.
    Join the Research Committee on Labour Movements ( and the Workers’ Action Centre for a series of public discussions about transformative organizing efforts taking place in Canada, South Africa, South Korea and the United States. Let's rethink strategies for building movement power from the ground up. This is a FREE event, but space is limited so please RSVP.
    To RSVP and learn more about the speakers, click here

    Sunday, July 22nd

    Brampton Organizing Meeting
    12:00 PM - 2:00 PM | Brampton Soccer Centre | Click here for the map.
    Thank you to everyone from Brampton who came out to the Rally for Decent Work! We are ready and organized to show premier-elect Doug Ford that WE are the people who he represents. Join us for this next organizing meeting to find out how we can make this happen and what is next in our campaign.
    To RSVP, click here & to spread the word on Facebook, click here

  • NOW Toronto: Fight For $15 And Fairness rally sends message to Doug Ford: We are the people

    The mood was upbeat at Saturday's minimum wage rally scored by activists as a "vital first blow in the struggle against the Ford government,” but there’s no sugarcoating what a PC majority means for the cause of social justice in Ontario

    By Peter Biesterfeld

    One anti-poverty group scored last Saturday’s Fight For $15 And Fairness rally as “a vital first blow in the struggle against the Ford government.” 

    And an impressive showing it was in front of the Ministry of Labour building on University, led by the sounds of Brazilian percussion group Baque de Bamba. They came to march to Queen’s Park – and to tell premier-designate Doug Ford and his government-in-waiting to lay off the Liberals’ Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act (Bill 148), which is set raise the minimum wage to $15 in January 2019.

    By the time the crowd is ready to head to Queen’s Park, about 2,000 people have gathered under a merciless midday sun. The gathering is sweltering but energized by the turnout, with signs and banners representing union groups and frontline support organizations from as far away as Niagara and Ottawa. From the back of a flatbed a beat boxer and a rap artist lead the demonstrators up University in a syncopated chant: “Minimum wage / under attack / What do we do? / Act up, fight back.”

    Near the Queen Victoria statue in front of the Legislature, newly elected NDP MPPs are invited on to a small stage by Black Lives Matter–Toronto co-founder Sandy Hudson, one of the keynote speakers at the event. Other guest speakers include Naomi Klein, a driving force behind the movement to build a coalition of labour, environment and social justice organizations, and Ontario Federation of Labour president Chris Buckley. The mood is upbeat but there’s no sugarcoating what a majority Ford government means for the cause of social justice in Ontario.

    “We did get a bunch of activists elected,” Hudson tells the crowd, “but we can’t just rely on those elected. We have to rely on each other.” Noting the union presence in the crowd, Hudson called on leadership in the province's labour movement to “take all the resources that we have… and start training for a fight. If it takes storming that building over the next four years, we have to be willing to do that.” 

    Ford has proposed replacing the minimum wage with a $850 tax credit for low-income earners, which those who’ve crunched the numbers agree will mean less money in the pockets of working people. On that issue, Ford’s media manager Jeff Silverstein, replying in an e-mail to NOW, offers up familiar talking points used by Ford on the campaign trail. 

    “A Doug Ford Ontario PC government understands that the people of Ontario are in need and will implement policies to make life more affordable, putting more money back into taxpayers’ pockets,” Silverstein writes. “As part of that plan, we’re going to make Ontario’s tax system fairer for low-income households by introducing a minimum-wage tax credit. This will save them up to $850 while protecting their job security.”

    Silverstein adds that, “full-time minimum wage workers will also save on their hydro bills, gasoline at the pump and natural gas to heat their home or apartment.”

    Asked whether Ford’s proposed tax credit would replace minimum wage Bill 148, Ford’s office did not respond. 

    Pam Frache, coordinator of Fight For $15 And Fairness – the group that first launched the campaign to raise the minimum wage in 2013 when it was frozen at $10.25 – says the current fight is about more than minimum wage. It’s about the need for fair scheduling and equal pay for equal work, regardless of whether you work full-time, part-time or for a temporary agency. 

    But Ford is only one character on the austerity stage. Rally emcee Deena Ladd, co-founder of the Workers Action Centre, one of the organizers of the event, says “it’s corporations that hide behind those lobby groups that have been actively fighting us every step of the way.” Among them, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which claims the move will lead to a 50 per cent increase in inflation, and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which has described a $15 minimum wage as a “job killer.” “They are the ones that will be leading this charge,” says Ladd.

    Sarah Jama, a community organizer from Hamilton and co-founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, warns what activists will be up against by reminding the crowd of Mark Wafer, the Tim Horton’s franchisee who made headlines when he argued against Bill 148 in front of the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs. He said that it would make economic sense to lay off disabled workers first should $15 minimum wage go through. Wafer had told the committee that, “In my business, jobs that don’t necessarily have to be done on a regular basis... those jobs would be the easiest ones to cut first.” 

    The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce also argued against a $15 minimum wage, suggesting that the Ontario government already had “a great many tools and programs to relieve poverty, and could simply utilize and perhaps expand upon those.”  

    Klein, the last speaker up, acknowledges that the election was a blow, and that people will get hurt in Ford’s Ontario no matter how fierce the resistance. 

    She paraphrases American historian Howard Zinn, saying that “the really critical thing isn’t who’s sitting in office, but who is sitting in – in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating – those are the things that determine history.” 

    Klein says that solidarity in the austerity battles to come will arise from building more durable relationships between struggles, before floating the idea of “conscientious objection” to Ford’s proposed tax cuts. She suggests “giving people easy-to-use tools to refuse their tax cuts and direct that money to grassroots mutual support networks instead. We need to start peer-to-peer, people-to-people wealth redistribution if our government won’t do it.”

    She adds, “We need to never stop reminding Doug Ford that he has no mandate for economic austerity, no mandate to cut our public services because he never published a platform.” 

    Enthusiastic applause goes up. 

    Read the Now Toronto Story

  • published Poster: Rally for Decent Work (11x17, French) in Resources 2018-07-03 14:05:18 -0400

  • published Leaflet: Rally for Decent Work (French) in Resources 2018-07-03 13:58:37 -0400

  • published CTV News: Tim Hortons protests spread in Media 2018-06-21 13:15:23 -0400

    CTV News: Tim Hortons protests spread

    Protest organizer Deena Ladd and fair economy campaigner Brittany Smith says this is such an amazing response from customers across Canada.

    Watch the CTV News Story

  • CTV News Regina: Protestors asking for higher min. wage

    Protesters in Regina are asking for a higher minimum wage in the province, showing solidarity for Tim Hortons employees in Ontario.

    Watch the CTV News Regina Story

  • CTV Atlantic: Halifax protesters march in solidarity with Ontario Tim Hortons workers

    As a part of the nation-wide day of action, protestors gathered in Halifax to rally in support of Tim Hortons workers in Ontario.

    Protesters are angered by some Tim Hortons franchisees who slashed workers' benefits and breaks after the province raised its minimum wage.

    About 50 demonstrations were planned in cities across the country on Friday, although at least 38 were based in Ontario, including 18 planned in Toronto. As of Dec. 31, 2016, the number of Tim Hortons locations in Canada was 3,801.

    Other cities involved in the protest included Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina, Vancouver and two other cities in British Columbia.

    About 40 people marched up the middle of Spring Garden Road in Halifax, N.S. in solidarity with the workers Friday.

    The group stopped in front of the Tim Hortons to wave their signs and chant a message that has spread from the situation west of the province gaining national attention.

    “Workers and community organizations across the country are watching,” said one protester.

    Rally goers in Halifax said they’re fighting for a $15 an hour minimum wage, as well as sick days and paid breaks.

    Protesters also got signatures for their petition, asking the Nova Scotia government to increase the minimum wage.

    “I believe that people need to make enough money to live,” said protester, Beth Pulos.

    Nova Scotia has the lowest minimum wage in Canada with the current minimum wage being $10.85. The province raised the wage by 15 cents last year.

    “Anyone who thinks that we can function effectively in the $15 world as a 15 cent jurisdiction is not being economically realistic. that's where our government is,” said NDP leader, Gary Burrill.

    Protesters said big businesses like Tim Hortons could easily absorb a bump to minimum wage, but smaller restaurants would have to make some changes to accommodate the higher wage.

    “Food prices would increase, or you're going to have to look at your systems and cut expenses elsewhere. Either find cheaper options or look at your whole system and find out if there's more efficient ways you can do stuff,” said Halifax restaurant owner, Cory Urqhart.

    Urqhart has 13 employees at Envie and the servers start at minimum wage. All of the employees receive health benefits and paid breaks and he said he doesn't want to change that.

    Urqhart also said introducing a higher minimum wage over a period of a few years would be a good start for a small business like his.

    President of the Halifax Dartmouth and District Labour Council, Suzanne MacNeil was among one of those at the protest and she said it’s the big businesses rally goers want to reach.

    “We think that if business owners are depending on paying poverty wages in order to give hundreds of millions in profits to their shareholders, then we say, they need to rethink their business plan,” she said.

    Rally organizers said they’re planning another rally in about a month and they believe it’s important to keep the pressure on the province and big coporations to let them know their workers are watching.

    Tim Hortons has said the employee benefit cutbacks made by some franchises in Ontario "do not reflect the values of our brand, the views of our company, or the views of the overwhelming majority" of restaurant owners.

    With files from CTV Atlantic’s Emily Baron Cadloff and David Hodges of the Canadian Press.

    Read the CTV News Atlantic Story

  • published Toronto Star: Minimum wage hike helps pay for food in Media 2018-06-19 16:46:49 -0400

    Toronto Star: Minimum wage hike helps pay for food

    By Nick Saul

    With budget top of mind for Ontario voters, it’s time to talk about who’s winning and who’s losing in our economy. The evidence couldn’t be clearer: the divide between the rich and poor continues to widen. And many of us who are doing well simply have no clue how poor our neighbours are.

    Or maybe the problem isn’t that we don’t know, it’s that we think living in poverty is a lifestyle choice. We blame people who are poor for shoddy budgeting or getting themselves into bad situations.

    At Community Food Centres Canada, we know this couldn’t be further from the truth. Every day, we see people like Nicole, who emigrated here as a young single mom and worked as a housekeeper, a telemarketer, and a caregiver but, with rent and child care, still couldn’t make ends meet.

    While charities like Community Food Centres provide programs and supports that help people like Nicole, the real solutions for poverty and food insecurity lie in the hands of government.

    That’s why we need to pay close attention to the parties’ policy ideas and ask ourselves if their positions on issues like housing, social assistance, child care and wages will help everyone — or further undermine the health and well-being of low-income Ontarians.

    Which is why we’re so concerned about the Progressive Conservative resolution to cancel the minimum wage increase to $15 per hour, replacing it with a tax cut for low-income workers. This will leave the nearly 9 per cent of Ontarians making minimum wage even farther outside the fold, and could cut yearly incomes by up to $712.

    That’s bad news for the 595,000 Ontario households that can’t afford to put food on the table. Despite the exhausted adage that people living in poverty need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, nearly 60 per cent of those households rely on wages as their primary source of income.

    It’s a problem for us all because the costs associated with poverty are downloaded onto our overburdened health care system, our economy, and, by association, onto Ontario taxpayers. Research shows that food insecurity significantly increases health care costs, and that income inequality slows growth. We’re doing our economy no favours by leaving our neighbours in the dust.

    For many of us, a yearly earnings reduction of $712 may not sound like a big deal. But the difference between a $15 minimum wage and a $14 minimum wage (even with a tax cut) is about equal to three months’ worth of nutritious food — no laughing matter for those who often go without.

    So let’s make sure that, in addition to the economy, equality takes a starring role in this upcoming election.

    When politicians in this critical election come knocking on your door, I hope you’ll tell them that, regardless of political stripe, we need them talking about ideas and policies that bring us together rather than pull us apart. We are all better off when we stand together.

    Nick Saul is president and CEO of Community Food Centres Canada.

    Read the Toronto Star Story

  • ICI: Manifestation contre le refus de Doug Ford de hausser le salaire minimum à 15 $

    By Nathasha McDonald-Dupuis

    La Fédération du travail de l'Ontario, des groupes anti-pauvreté et Black Lives Matter manifestent samedi devant les bureaux du ministère du Travail pour dénoncer le refus de Doug Ford d'augmenter le salaire minimum de 14 $ à 15 $ l'an prochain, comme prévu sous le gouvernement libéral.

    Il s'agit de la première manifestation du genre depuis que le chef conservateur a remporté une majorité écrasante aux élections du 7 juin dernier.

    La première ministre sortante, Kathleen Wynne, avait promis d'augmenter le salaire minimum à 15 $ l'heure le 1er janvier 2019.

    L'ancien chef progressiste-conservateur Patrick Brown avait proposé un compromis, celui d'augmenter le salaire minimum de 25 cents par année, pour atteindre 15 $ l'heure en 2022.

    Cette promesse s'est envolée avec l'ascension au pouvoir de Doug Ford. Le salaire minimum se maintiendra désormais à 14 $ l'heure. En contrepartie, le premier ministre désigné promet que ces travailleurs ne paieront pas d'impôt sur le revenu ce qui leur permettrait d'économiser 850 $ par an.

    Une mesure que rejettent toutefois les principaux intéressés, parce que s'ils touchaient 15 $ l'heure, ils gagneraient 1500 $ de plus par an.
    La différence est énorme pour Yvette Leclair, une agente d'un centre d'appel qui gagne le salaire minimum et qui participe à la manifestation.

    Doug Ford vous dites que vous êtes pour le peuple, et bien nous sommes le peuple, dit-elle.

    La Fédération du travail de l'Ontario, qui représente une douzaine de syndicats, s'inquiète de cette décision et estime en effet qu'un crédit d'impôt n'aura pas le même impact qu'une hausse de salaire.

    Anne Ouellette, une militante syndicale, membre des Travailleurs unis de l'alimentation et du commerce, qui participe elle aussi à la manifestation renchérit : 15 piasses en Ontario ce n'est pas de trop. C'est même nécessaire. Les loyers sont chers, le coût de la vie est très cher. Donc une réduction, ou annuler le 15$ va nuire beaucoup.

    Read the ICI Story

  • CBC News: Jane and Finch residents sound off about election issues that matter to them

    'Once our politicians get elected, they don't come and talk to the men and women on the street'

    Residents of Toronto's Jane and Finch neighbourhood crowded into a gymnasium on Tuesday night to find out what four provincial election candidates will do about their concerns.

    Held at the Driftwood Community Centre, the meeting was organized by the Jane Finch Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods Task Force and it was an opportunity for residents and community groups to highlight key issues in the community.

    Residents pressed candidates on what they would do to address their issues.

    Progressive Conservative candidate Cyma Musarat, New Democrat Tom Rakocevic, Liberal candidate Deanna Sgro and Trillium Party candidate Lucy Guerrero were there.

    Here are five issues residents highlighted:

    Public housing.
    Mental health.
    Minimum wage and workers' rights.
    Public transit.

    Winston LaRose, a member of the Jane Finch Concerned Citizens Organization, or "Mr. Jane and Finch," as he says he is known, said the Jane and Finch community is often overlooked by politicians.

    'These are the forgotten people'
    "These are the forgotten people," he said. "Once our politicians get elected, they don't come and talk to the men and women on the street, or I'd say in the housing, because that's where they're located."

    For LaRose, the state and recent closures of Toronto Community Housing buildings were top of mind.

    "We must talk about people living on Shoreham Court, living on Driftwood Court, those in Grand Ravine, those in places like Firgrove, which most of the politicians don't want to go to."

    Community housing was also on the mind of local tenant representative Amanda Coombs, who said access to fresh food was one of her key concerns.

    "Inside of the food banks, a lot of the foods they receive are canned goods and full of preservatives," she said.

    Politicians often out of touch, say some
    When it comes to everyday issues, she said, most politicians are out of touch. Coombs is one resident who remains undecided about which party will receive her support.

    "I just really hope that whoever is elected is really somebody who sees from the inside out and not from the outside in."

    High school teacher Dennis Keshinro said improvements to education are especially important to the riding, which is diverse. Keshinro said he wants to see the next government do a better job of focusing on the needs of students of immigrant backgrounds who may be pushed from grade to grade without being properly equipped for the curriculum.

    "When we have 10 students going to school and we only have five and three graduating, that's a huge problem," he said.

    Keshinro said he's watching the candidates carefully, but isn't disclosing which one has won him over.

    Education was also a concern for community advocate Suzanne Narain of Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty.

    "Many of the families in this neighbourhood are immigrant families and education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, but we see that there are increasing class sizes, less support for special ed," she said.

    With just over a week to go until election day, Narain said she knows which party will be getting her vote, but she's concerned about what she calls "professional politicians" telling the community what's best for them without having real experience living in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood.

    "One of the problems that we see in many elections is that we see people say that they're for the people or that they want to advocate for the people but they are actually of the elite… they make it see like they care about the livelihood and dignity of poor people when they are not."

    Ultimately, LaRose said he hopes this election will galvanize those in the community who lack representation in government to exercise their right to vote.

    "You get out there and cast your vote," he said. "Make sure your voices are heard and well-represented."

    Read the CBC Story

  • Our Times: Fighting for $15 and Fairness Through the Eyes of Women Activists

    By Melissa Keith

    Fighting for $15 and Fairness is second nature for Canada's many service-industry employees, who know the impossible struggle of urban life on minimum wage. Individually, they have battled for pay increases, job security, medical insurance, paid sick days, and the other ingredients that make a job a "good job." But when each worker fights this fight alone, any personal gains can come at the expense of co-workers, or at a high cost to the individual.

    I've experienced and endured restaurant and retail workplaces where survival meant competitive hostility among employees, as each strove for the best shifts, most hours, that elusive raise, promotion to management, or other perks. Dynamics like those don't spawn a pleasant workplace climate. Informal and unfair choices by owners and managers motivated the decisions that impacted our lives. I was let go at one restaurant after three years, because another server wanted my job to go to her friend. The server was dating the restaurant owner's son at the time.

    Can minimum-wage jobs ever incorporate enough fairness for workers to be freed from clashing over crumbs? When the Ontario Legislature passed Bill 148 (the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017) last November 22, the stage was set for finding out. Under this act, minimum-wage workers received a boost to their paycheques, to $14 per hour effective January 1, 2018, to be followed by an increase to $15, scheduled to take effect January 1, 2019. 

    In addition, paid and unpaid "personal days" off work became a legal reality in a sector where taking time off is often accompanied by the implied threat of losing one's job. Other changes introduced with the legislation sound suspiciously like examples of basic compassion and common sense:

    * a minimum of three weeks' vacation after five years with the same employer
    * up to 10 individual days of leave and up to 15 weeks of leave, without the fear of losing one's job when a worker or their child has experienced or is threatened with domestic or sexual violence
    * expanded personal emergency leave in all workplaces 
    * (unpaid) job-protected leave to take care of a critically ill family member.

    Knowing one's work schedule in advance is another feature of a fair workplace. Starting January 1, 2019, Bill 148 gives employees the right to refuse a shift they have been assigned with less than 96 hours' notice, eliminating a stressor for the many workers with limited transportation options and multiple roles (for example, those working at more than one job; those who are also students, caregivers and/or parents). These and other changes within the progressive bill are resonating with minimum-wage workers and others who want an equitable employment landscape. 

    For Nadira Begum, the passage of Bill 148 is a victory, but an incomplete one. "I have two part-time jobs right now, in the non-profit sector, with no benefits. But now, I can access personal emergency leave; because now, temporary, part-time, casual worker — it doesn't matter," she tells Our Times. "Most of the [Bill 148] changes, I can get access to."

    The organizer in Toronto's diverse Regent Park neighbourhood is an advocacy worker focused on "decent work for racialized women." Begum arrived in Canada 12 years ago and found herself unable to land work that made use of her social-work background from Bangladesh. She couldn't afford the time to upgrade her qualifications.

    "I had two children, so it was impossible for me to go to university. By this time, I had kind of like part-time work. Before, I had three to 10 jobs at the same time. All of my experience is non-profit sector; I didn't work groceries or other places." Instead, she became a volunteer in Regent Park, and got involved in the Fight for $15 and Fairness in 2016. She is now a leader for the campaign in her community.

    Begum says her situation is all too common: Educated immigrants apply for jobs commensurate with their qualifications, but find their credentials unacceptable to employers in Canada. "Lots of people in Regent Park, they face the same conditions. They don't have any choice — they have to do two or three part-time jobs, because their education is not equal here."

    For people struggling to support themselves and their families under such conditions, Bill 148 represents a lifeline — Begum says after the first minimum-wage increase came into effect, one woman proudly informed her that she could finally pay her hydro bill. 

    The spiralling cost of living in urban centres means underpaid workers are treading water. There can be no savings, no security when rent alone consumes most of one's income and food banks are a necessary part of life. 

    News outlets catering to business and corporate interests have chosen to frame systemic injustice as personal inadequacy, notes Pam Frache. The coordinator of the Ontario Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign and Workers' Action Centre organizer is cautiously optimistic about Bill 148's chances of being fully implemented next year. She views the March 10th election of Doug Ford as Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leader as a potential threat to full enactment, but no insurmountable barrier for the campaign and its supporters. 

    What happens when a win for workers is followed by a narrow and controversial win for a politician promising to undo the workers' victory? 

    "We were concerned, obviously, about the direction of the Progressive Conservative Party in general, just because they already said they were going to prolong the implementation of the $15 minimum wage," says Frache. "In the mid-1990s, the Conservatives not only reversed progressive labour-law changes that had been implemented by the Ontario NDP government [under Bob Rae], they actually rolled back employment standards. They gutted social assistance, [making] literally lethal social-assistance cuts, so we know from their past practices that we need to be concerned."

    Those practices have not changed, according to Frache: "We know that the Progressive Conservatives actually voted against Bill 148, which is the bill that brought in the changes that are on the table now."

    Former Toronto municipal councillor Doug Ford, much like his late brother, former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, represents the current trend of populism in politics.

    "We were considerably concerned about the Conservatives in general, but I think what's interesting about Doug Ford is that he's quite brazen in their agenda," says Frache. "The worrisome thing is [that] some people are not going to take his candidacy seriously. There are people who are thinking, 'That's great: He's a controversial figure, so we don't have to worry about what he represents!'

    "Some people are responding with insults and derision. We've all seen this movie before — we saw this movie with Rob Ford in Toronto, we saw this movie with Donald Trump, and I think that what we have to do is really unpack the populism in Doug Ford's message and address it. There's a kernel of truth in every single thing that he says."

    Disenfranchised workers struggling to put food on the table have turned to outspoken candidates like Ford and Trump out of frustration, Frache notes. "If we just simply dismiss what he's saying, we're going to lose our audience, because there's a goodly section of the population who feel that life is not getting better; life is either a grind or getting worse.

    "We have politicians who don't speak clearly, don't mean what they say and say what they mean, and I think they see in Doug Ford someone who means what he says and says what he means."

    The populist approach disguises the anti-working-class slant of the right-wing agenda, cautions Frache. As corporate interests feed stories to traditionally conservative business-media outlets, those who benefit from maintaining an impoverished pool of readily available, marginalized workers are presented as benevolent employers. Similarly, politicians supporting this agenda are painted as down-to-earth, plain-spoken opponents of an elitist, out-of-touch left.

    "[Ontario voters] may not agree with everything Doug Ford says, but I think they like his clarity and his boldness," says the organizer. "I think that the job of progressives is to really take his base seriously and have real conversations with them."

    This means the kind of direct and unpretentious outreach being carried out by Frache and Begum, as well as by Navneet (Navi) Aujla, a workers' advocate in Brampton, Ontario. The York University sociology graduate speaks from firsthand knowledge of the insidious spread of "temp agencies" and how they impact workers.

    She observes that racialized workers with few options for paid employment find themselves forced into the free-for-all world of the agencies, which have flourished thanks to ongoing racism, sexism and other forms of workplace exclusion.

    "Some of these temp agencies aren't even in a building — they're [accessible only] through a phone call and then if they don't pay your wages, you can't find them," cautions Aujla. Twice, she was paid less than minimum wage by such agencies, which open — and close — randomly, as is convenient for their operators.

    While doing research for her master's degree at York, Aujla learned that temp agencies exploited immigrants to Ontario as far back as the late 1800s; as early as 1914, the province brought in regulations to prevent them from taking advantage of workers. Early temp agencies staffed factories with industrial workers. In a 2009 article published in Just Labour: A Canadian Journal of Work and Society, David Van Arsdale and Michael Mandarino note a second rise in employment agencies just after the Second World War beginning with Winnipeg-based "Office Overload" in 1951. Within the decade, the company had expanded to Toronto, Hamilton, Vancouver and Montreal, placing women who had filled unconventional labour-market gaps in factories during the war years back into stereotypical clerical gigs.

    Aujla says it was her own experience with temp agencies that originally motivated her to join the Fight for $15 and Fairness. "I had worked through a bunch of them before, when I was still studying. I ended up also researching temp agencies when I was doing my master's at York, so I really got to see how problematic they are. Also speaking to members of my community, especially South Asian immigrant women, to see the kind of horrible conditions they had to work through and how powerless you are in that position."

    She encountered a panel discussing the campaign for $15 and Fairness on campus, and appreciated that temp-agency work was part of the conversation. "That's how I got involved. There's also a $15 and Fairness campus group at York, and when I finished there, a couple of us started organizing for the campaign in Brampton."

    Advocates of better conditions for marginalized workers may argue that workers should reject exploitative jobs, employers and temp agencies, on principle. The Brampton resident argues that few who accept this work have any choice.

    "When I first started doing it, I was a student and I needed work during the holidays. I couldn't find it anywhere else, so I had to go through the temp agencies."

    It was after this experience and during her bachelor's degree that Aujla delved into studying temp agencies. She discovered they have become increasingly common within the past five to 10 years. Recent immigrants living in her community told Aujla that, like her, they turned to the agencies for "general labour" positions in the warehouses and factories prevalent in Brampton. 

    Temp agencies are, true to their name, a stopgap measure when it comes to employment. Aujla describes getting two days' work, then nothing else for the next week, when she was temping as a general labourer. "Maybe you go in for one day, and then they send you home after three hours," she says. "Not knowing how much work you're going to be getting, or how many hours, or even when the work will be, because the calls come one day before."

    Transportation can be a very real barrier on such erratic schedules, as can arranging child care, yet endless flexibility is demanded of on-call temps. "If you say 'no' to going in more than once or twice, then they're just going to stop calling you back," warns the organizer, who admits she has even cancelled a medical appointment in order to accept a one-day job. "Then there was another time they texted me at 6:35 a.m. and said, 'We don't need you to come in.'"

    Before Bill 148, the most vulnerable members of the provincial workforce had few protections against dehumanizing expectations in their precarious jobs, particularly as temp workers.

    "There is no control over your schedule and you're at the whim and mercy of when they are going to call, always waiting by your phone," says Aujla. Direct communication with the actual employer is impossible; workers are routed back to the temp agencies, which take a substantial cut of what the company pays to use (as opposed to hire) the worker.

    Aujla no longer takes temp gigs, and admits to having an element of rare safety and educational privilege even when she did: "I was living at home, so I didn't even have as much of a need; I can't even imagine what it's like for folks who are depending on this kind of work for survival. You can't plan anything else, in case they do call you."

    Bill 148 is a welcome step toward transparency. "There's so much secrecy! Everywhere I worked, you got minimum wage or less, because the temp agency was taking a cut," notes Aujla. "They don't disclose that, so you don't even know how much it is." She says workers could be making wildly different hourly wages, but talking about pay within such a divided (temp/non-temp) workplace is taboo.

    Hence, the "equal pay for equal work" provisions the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign has embraced and that came into effect on April 1st: "The law says that basically anyone who is working part time or through a temp agency or seasonal — if you're doing the same work as somebody who's full time, you should be paid the same. You can't be discriminated against based on your employment status, because the work is the same."

    The need to increase protections for marginalized workers has seldom been stronger, contrary to the view coming from business advertorials and right-wing lobbyists. "Even when you speak to the older generation, like my parents, or people who have been here for maybe 10 to 15 years, when they first came, you didn't have to go through a temp agency to get work — you could go to a factory and get hired directly," explains the Brampton organizer. "Now, it's like no one is hiring directly. Even if they have jobs [available], they will send you through a temp agency."

    Aujla says even community agencies are funnelling job applicants through temp agencies, as opposed to doing their own hiring. It's created a haven for the Greater Toronto Area's 1,700 temp agencies (more than the number operating in seven provinces combined, she notes) and a ghetto for many job-seekers. 

    Bill 148 has tackled several of the abuses that led to the rise of precarious work in the province. On November 27th, an "employee misclassification" clause came into immediate effect: "Employers cannot misclassify employees as independent contractors. This addresses cases where employers treat employees as if they are self-employed and not entitled to employment-standards protections. If there is a dispute the employer will have to prove that an individual is not an employee."

    Aujla states that the Fight for $15 and Fairness movement continues to push for greater rights. "If the companies are held liable for safety and injuries, that would also be a huge success. What we're still pushing for now is, workers should be hired directly after three months [temping]; there should be a limit on how many workers can be brought in through a temp agency at a company — we're saying 20 per cent; and there should be no barriers to workers getting hired directly."

    Complacency is not an option, agrees Frache. She says the public must look for hidden agendas when they read business news on Bill 148 and the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign. One example: a seemingly surprising supporter of a Guaranteed Annual Income for Ontarians is actually backing the idea as a means to suppress workers' rights.

    "The Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which has been a vocal opponent of the campaign for $15 and Fairness, they have this coalition of businesses — mostly corporate lobby outfits — which is all about suggesting that if you do anything decent for workers, then we're going to have massive unemployment," she explains. "They oppose raising the minimum wage to $15, but they very much support a Guaranteed Annual Income.

    "The reason is because of corporations that have a sub-poverty wage model. This would let those corporations off the hook, because if the state provides the wages, then they don't have to."

    Unions, and supporters like the Ontario Federation of Labour, are a fundamental part of the ongoing Ontario Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign. Frache says that a 2017 strike by Aramark employees at York University demonstrated the collective power of organized labour and activists. "It was an absolute breakthrough!" she says with approval. "The way they won, by framing their demands as part of the Fight for $15 and Fairness. Normally, these workers would be separate, taking on Aramark alone."

    Instead, all unions represented on the campus were joined by students, "uniting the whole campus," with the York Federation of Students providing free "Solidarity Coffee."

    Malka Paracha was a part of the activism behind that victory. The North York resident works as an Aramark food-service supervisor at York University. "I'm very proud to say that I'm not only a shop steward with Unite Here Local 75, but also known as a strong leader at my workplace," she says via email. "I got that position in September 2014." She became involved in the $15 and Fairness campaign while planning for the 2017 strike period, encouraged by members of the campaign, whom she reports "showed a strong support and solidarity with us to achieve our due demands as a contract."

    The York Aramark workers' contract had expired in September 2016. Paracha notes that in the wording of a new contract, she and co-workers requested a wage of $15 per hour "to enhance the living standards of those who were living below the poverty line by earning the then minimum-per-hour rate." When the company management held back on approving this hourly wage increase, the unionized York Aramark staff voted in unanimous favour of a strike.

    It wasn't simply the pay increase that Paracha was looking for — she wanted real fairness enacted in the workplace. "I suffered a lot because of my hijab and religious practice in my early years of work," she recalls. "I was literally told by the management at work that I'm not presentable, so I'm not eligible for a higher position, even though I had enough experience, proper job skills and knowledge."

    She says she was also expected to socialize with men on the job in ways she considers incompatible with her faith: "My second disqualification for promotion was my other religious concerns, like not being able to shake hands with male officials, keeping myself simple and reserved in mixed gatherings, and so on."

    The shop steward happily shares that the strike accomplished its goals — and then some. "We signed a robust contract with the company, under which we not only achieved the minimum-per-hour rate of $15 but also got 100 per cent benefits for full-time and part-time workers. And we are the one who set the standards for the rest of the workers in precarious jobs, for the companies and unions, that the minimum raise of $15 is achievable."

    Paracha, who lobbied continuously for Bill 148, says she feels "very positive" about it: "I hope for an effective implementation of the bill after elections" are held across the province on June 7.

    A Fight for $15 and Fairness provincial strategy meeting held on March 23 and 24 is just one example of how the campaign is keeping the momentum going. Pam Frache says after the passage of Bill 148, part of the ongoing battle is maintaining presence and influence without the same level of financial support that backs the American Fight for $15 and Fairness campaigns.

    Populist voices loudly calling for the market to "self-regulate" are ill-informed, and pose a real threat to recent gains. (A truly self-regulating market in need of workers would necessarily improve wages and conditions to attract those workers, she explains: It's the self-interest of CEOs that actually interferes with that kind of self-regulating labour market.)

    "We need to be very, very careful that we don't let the business community offload its obligation to provide decent work onto the public purse, which is less and less sustained by corporate taxes and more and more sustained by ordinary workers," she argues.

    "If you look at what's happening in the United States, there is widespread documentation on the fact that food-stamp social programs are subsidizing the poverty-level wages of profitable corporations like Walmart and McDonald's and so forth. We don't want to let corporations off the hook."

    Aujla agrees that regardless of what happens in the June provincial election, the fight will go on. She wants to "let every party know that we're not going to back down."

    The frontline outreach of the Workers' Action Centre and its support of minimum-wage employees will continue, as will the centre's political activism: "No matter who is elected, [elected officials] have to stand for these issues that we're pushing. We're strong, we're getting the word out there, and we're building our movement, so that no matter what happens in the election, we're strong enough to stand up to any political party and what they might try to do."

    Read the Our Times Story

  • Toronto Star: There’s no good reason to freeze the minimum wage

    By Naureen Rizvi

    Workers in Ontario have fought long and hard for the $15-an-hour minimum wage, and there is no good reason to delay the increase. With data coming in since the January 2018 increase, it’s clear that improving standards for all workers helps our province.

    Shortly after the government tabled Bill 148, Ontarians began to see a steady stream of ominous headlines about the negative consequences of a $15 minimum wage. Some critics warned that the size and speed of the increase would almost certainly lead to large-scale job losses and runaway inflation.

    These apocalyptic predications have not come true since the changes were enacted. Workers knew that by raising standards, we would all benefit.

    When we compare Ontario’s labour market with other large Canadian provinces, zeroing in on those segments where minimum wage workers are over-represented found that Ontario’s job numbers did not significantly underperform provinces with stagnant minimum wages.

    In the first four months of 2018 Ontario’s overall number of jobs contracted by one per cent, which was in line with Quebec (also one per cent) and the Canada-wide average (0.9 per cent).

    Workers aged 15 to 24 in Ontario, who are over-represented in minimum-wage work; saw a 4.4 per cent reduction in their employment, which was slightly above the Canada-wide average (4.1 per cent) but below the average in British Columbia (6.5 per cent).

    As for inflation, prices across Canada rose by 1.9 per cent over the past four months. In Ontario, the figure is only marginally higher at 2.1 per cent.

    These numbers are not indicative of catastrophe. If an elevated minimum wage did not lead to significant job losses or high levels of inflation, what did it do?

    It changed lives. In Ontario, average hourly earnings are up 8 per cent in retail and over 9 per cent in accommodation and food services. These figures dramatically outpaced other provinces.

    Ontario-wide, the average wage rate is up by 2.1 per cent in the first four months of the year, which is 50 per cent higher than the Canadian average.

    What’s special about this growth is that it’s combatting income inequality. The growth is concentrated in the lower part of income distribution, and it actually increased median wage growth. I cannot stress how rare this is, and how important.

    It’s simply not fair for people in Ontario to go to work every day and still not be able to afford rent or groceries for their families. Paying all workers an increased minimum wage is the first step towards addressing this inequality, though that’s not where it ends.

    Both the NDP and the Liberals have committed to increasing the minimum wage to the legislated $15 an hour in January 2019.

    Andrea Horwath’s NDP further pledged to expand the higher minimum wage to apply to servers, students under 18, homeworkers and all other workers who are currently carved out from the increase and allowed to be paid an even lower amount.

    Ontario PC leader Doug Ford, on the other hand, is still trying to sell the corporate line that a higher wage will decimate the economy, and vowed to freeze the minimum wage at $14 an hour, depriving hundreds of thousands of workers of a scheduled pay raise. Even coupled with his tax scheme this could cost minimum wage earners $800 a year.

    Ontarians have a stark choice to make about what kind of government we want to elect on June 7. I hope voters choose a party that is able to look at the facts in front of it and create a platform that works for working people. Because it is clear, there is no good reason to freeze the minimum wage.

    Naureen Rizvi is Unifor Ontario regional director.

    Read the Toronto Star Story

  • Toronto Star: In provincial election, battle lines drawn over minimum wage and good jobs

    By Sara Mojtehedzadeh

    Job creation is an evergreen campaign promise, but as for your rights on the job — well, they don’t tend to be a wedge issue.

    That’s what Navi Aujla hopes to change this time around.

    “I think there’s a lot of myths around, if we increase the quality of jobs it’s going to lead to job loss. I think it puts a fear in folks that asking for what we deserve is going to put us out of work,” says the 26-year-old organizer with the Fight for $15 movement.

    Low pay and temp-agency work are common in her community, the Brampton native says. She’s experienced it first hand — and wants political candidates to take note.

    “At one factory we were made to race against each other and you feel like you have no choice to try and win that race because they may not call you back,” she recalls. “There’s constant threatening going on — ‘if you don’t make this many pieces, we’re not going to call you back tomorrow.’ ”

    Around one-third of Ontario’s workforce are vulnerable workers in precarious employment, according to a report by two independent special advisers appointed by the province. A study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) found in 2015 that Ontario’s low-wage workforce grew by 94 per cent over two decades, vastly outstripping the growth in total employment, which grew by 30 per cent.

    After a two-year review of the province’s labour standards, the Liberals prefaced election season with reforms tackling precarious work, including a pledge to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2019, starting with a boost from $11.60 an hour to $14 in January.

    Bill 148, introduced in November, represented the most significant changes to Ontario’s employment laws in decades. It mandated equal pay for temp, casual and part-time workers doing similar work to permanent employees, provided all workers with a minimum of two paid emergency leave days, and gave them the right to refuse a shift if the request is made with less than four days’ notice. It also doubled the Ministry of Labour’s complement of employment standards officers to improve enforcement.

    Outgoing labour minister Kevin Flynn says the province’s most vulnerable workers are feeling the difference.

    “Where you’re seeing the changes are the places where it was needed the most, it’s the places that just stick to the bare minimum or sometimes avoid the bare minimum,” he told the Star.

    Rising labour costs led some in the business community to warn that wage increases would lead to job losses. So far, Flynn says, that has not come to pass. Employment in Ontario increased by 10,600 jobs in March with a gain in full-time positions.

    “Jobs are still being created,” he said.

    If elected, Flynn said his party will continue to review the existing “patchwork” of exemptions to Ontario’s workplace laws that leave some professions without any basic protections, a process that kicked off after Bill 148 passed in November. He says he’s also committed to improving occupational disease victims’ access to workers’ compensation, and to looking at ways to reduce violence against workers in the health-care and education sectors.

    Like the Liberals, the NDP have committed to a $15 hourly minimum by 2019, and say they will remove exemptions for students and liquor servers who currently make a lower minimum wage.

    Their platform promises three weeks’ holiday to every worker. (The Liberals introduced a new three-week entitlement for employees with five years of service at a company.) The NDP has also pledged to set up a task force to “remove barriers between injured workers and the compensation they deserve,” and to reintroduce card-based certification to make it easier for workers to unionize. Unlike the Liberals, the party says it will not use back-to-work legislation to end strikes.

    NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says prescription drug and dental coverage are also key for workers in an insecure economy.

    “We need to address the holes (precarious work) creates in the ability of people to stay healthy,” she told the Star.

    “They talk a good game about there being lots of jobs,” Horwath said of her rival parties. “But is the economy really working for people?”

    The Greens, meanwhile, note that the province’s social safety nets “were not designed for an economy with so many contract, freelance, precarious and temporary jobs” and offer up a guaranteed basic income as one solution — an approach advocated by some precarious-work experts and piloted in Ontario by the Liberals.

    “A Basic Income Guarantee will provide the economic security people need to be entrepreneurs, to be able to afford retraining or to experience gaps in work without falling into poverty,” the Green platform says.

    Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford has said he will freeze the minimum wage at $14, and will instead eliminate provincial income tax for everyone earning below $30,000.

    Ford declined an interview request but in an emailed statement, spokesperson Melissa Lantsman said “folks struggling to make ends meet” needed help.

    “That’s why Doug said that under a PC government, if you are making minimum wage, you are going to pay no income tax at all. That’s our plan for Ontario. That’s our plan to put more money in your pocket. No matter where you work in Ontario, if you are making minimum wage you won’t pay a single cent in income tax.”

    Income taxes are partly levied by the federal government, so Ford’s plan could only eliminate the provincial portion of low-wage earners’ income tax.

    The party’s platform, released Wednesday, also says a Ford government would reform the province’s foreign credential recognition process to “help qualified immigrants come to Ontario and contribute to the economy to their fullest potential immediately.”

    In response to a question asking if the Progressive Conservatives would keep intact the other worker protections introduced in Bill 148 — including equal pay for temps and paid emergency-leave days — Lantsman said a PC government “will work with businesses and unions to ensure that these changes work for everyone.”

    According to an analysis by the CCPA, a higher minimum wage as promised by the Liberals and NDP leaves low-wage workers $1,500 richer than they would be under Ford’s taxation plan.

    Economist Armine Yalnizyan, who recently co-authored a report called Race to the Top, which tackles how to make economic growth inclusive, says the Ford platform offers a narrative that may be comfortingly familiar — cut taxes and let businesses generate jobs and prosperity.

    But she says the trickle-down growth mantra is a “social experiment that failed to deliver on its own terms,” given rising inequality and job insecurity across developed economies.

    “There are a lot of people who are preaching the zombie policies of the 1980s and ’90s,” Yalnizyan says.

    She sees two policies as being the real key to a better life for workers. One is a decent minimum wage — one that is “anchored at 60 per cent of the average wage.” (By this measure, even the proposed $15 minimum wage would be $1.50 shy of the mark.)

    The second is sectoral or broader-based bargaining. In North America, unions have traditionally operated workplace by workplace. In broader-based bargaining, workers and their representatives negotiate with business leaders to set minimum working conditions across an entire sector. This would go farther in providing basic protections for all workers in the sector — and level the playing field among business competitors, Yalnizyan argues.

    “Sectoral bargaining can become a friend for both workers and businesses, and eliminate the real exploiters in the system who actually make it hard for good employers in those sectors,” she says. “I see sectoral bargaining as a real promising future if we are to make every job a good job.”

    Aujla says improvements to basic workplace standards will particularly benefit “women, new Canadians and racialized Canadians,” who are overrepresented in precarious jobs.

    She’s hoping to see stricter regulations around how long workers can be kept in temporary positions before being made permanent, stronger scheduling protections, and an elimination of current exemptions to the Employment Standards Act that mean some workers aren’t entitled to the minimum wage.

    A minimum wage boost will put money back in the pockets of those most likely to spend it locally, she says

    “Right now workers who are making minimum wage are barely getting by. Even at $15 (an hour). it only puts workers who are working full time at 10 per cent above the poverty line.”

    “It’s really important to elect people who are going to have our backs in this election because we could lose all the things that we’ve won,” she adds.

    “And we know that along with all the things we’ve won, there’s a lot more that needs to be changed.”

    Read the Toronto Star Story