Guest Blog: Metro News Ottawa: Poor, students need higher minimum wage before 2014, says anti-poverty group

Article by Graham Lanktree for Ottawa Metro

The working poor and students don’t have until 2014, when recommendations from a new provincial Minimum Wage Advisory Panel are set to bump up the lowest wages, anti-poverty advocates said Thursday.
“Gas has gone up, milk, bread. How are we supposed to survive off the same pay?” said 21-year-old Jessica Pearce, a member of anti-poverty group ACORN Canada in Ottawa of Canada’s rising prices. Pearce said she dropped out of high-school two years ago to work as a janitor to help support her mom who is on welfare after sustaining a brain injury.
“I’ve had second jobs previously because of the money situation,” she said, adding that looking after her mom often takes as many hours as a full-time job. “The price of bus passes kills me at the end of the month when rent comes in. It’s another $100 gone. I’m always in debt because of it.” Full-time hours under the current minimum wage puts workers 19 per cent below the poverty line, ACORN argues.
According to Statistics Canada, in the past five years, food prices have jumped almost double the amount of other items used to gauge the consumer price index.
Wednesday the provincial government announced it is launching a panel to address the long standing issue of calculating minimum wage to have a predictable increase for businesses and employees. Headed by Anil Verma, a professor of Human Resource Management at the University of Toronto, Minister of Labour, and Ottawa Centre MPP, Yasir Naqvi, said it’s about time for the move.
“The amount of minimum wage has been very much an ad hoc political decision,” said Naqvi, quickly pointing out that his government has increased the wage 50 per cent since 2003 from $6.85 to $10.25 per hour. Before that, he said, wages had been stalled for nine years under the Conservative government.
The panel will create a way of tying an increase in minimum wage to other economic factors, Naqvi said, and he expects to hear their recommendations for how to calculate it moving forward in December. The next step will be to legislate change, he said, adding that with the Liberal’s minority government, it may be difficult to reach consensus.
Yet that’s too long according to ACORN, which has been calling for a minimum wage of $14 immediately since launching its Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage in March.
“Minimum wage has been frozen for over three years,” the group wrote in a release, vowing that starting August 14, the group will hold demonstrations against he province on the 14th of every month.
“We’re seeing people who are falling below the line of poverty and we can’t let this continue,” said ACORN youth volunteer, 20-year-old Curtis Bulatovich. “Our labour market is extremely difficult. I can’t afford post-secondary education.”
Minimum wage by the numbers:
Some 534,000 workers in Ontario, nearly one in 10 of all workers, earn minimum wage.
The minimum wage in Ontario has increased 50 per cent since 2003, from $6.85 to $10.25 per hour.
Household spending drives 54 per cent of Ontario’s gross domestic product.
In 2012, nearly half of workers paid minimum wage in Ontario were employed by businesses that have more than 500 employees.
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