DiNovo says even social conservatives should support an increase in the minimum wage

Parkdale-High Park MPP Cheri DiNovo’s private member’s bill hopes to raise the minimum wage from $7.75 (set to jump to $8 in February 2007) to $10. The bill passed its second reading in early November.

It will now go to committee to determine its final status. DiNovo warns if it doesn’t become law, the effects will be long lasting.

“Whether you are paying it in social assistance or crime, it’s … the hidden cost of poverty in your neighbourhood and you’ll be paying a lot more than minimum wage,” DiNovo said.

She said the current minimum wage forces many Ontarians to be “working poor.”

“Really what we are asking people to do when they work fulltime at less than $10, is to work below the poverty line,” DiNovo said. Raising the minimum wage to $10 would simply be “playing catch up,” she added.

“In 1972, the minimum wage was $2 an hour and if you use the Bank of Canada’s inflation calendar, that works out to $10 an hour now,” she explained.

Critics of the increase say low-wage workers and small businesses will suffer, as employers will be unable to afford the higher wage. DiNovo disputes this argument.

“Most small business don’t have a lot of people on their payroll (so) a few dollars here or there is not a major difference,” she said. “I’ve had small business leaders come to me and say, ‘You know this isn’t our issue.’ The people who are really behind the push back against this are the Walmarts and the McDonalds.”

Ryan Netherton, assistant manager at the Liberty Village Dominion, said Dominion currently starts all employees at the general minimum wage of $7.75.

Workers then receive pay raises based on the number of hours they work. Netherton said increasing the minimum wage may help large corporations such as Dominion hold on to good workers.

“Sometimes being in the city, close to downtown, we lose our good employees when they find other jobs that are, you know, 10 or 12 dollars an hour,” Netherton said. But, he added, starting all employees at $10 would be an enormous expense for the corporation.

Sue Sadler, assistant executive director at Job Start, a not-for-profit employment resource centre, said she always discourages her clients from taking minimum wage jobs.

“It’s statistically proven to put them underneath the poverty line,” she said. “We are most definitely steering clients towards careers and viable, sustainable livelihood as opposed to minimum wage, dead-end jobs.”

Job Start offers free programs to integrate Torontonians into the labour market. It focuses on employability skills training, especially for newcomers to Canada, the over-40 employee group, youth and people with disabilities. Sadler said she backs the efforts to pass DiNovo’s bill.

“Those workers would no longer be starting in a position that has them rendered living beneath the poverty line,” Sadler said. “The numbers have been crunched and $10 an hour barely puts you on the other side of it.”

Filed from The Centre for Creative Communications