Hike in minimum wage raises concerns for Torontonians

Promises of $15 minimum wage has raised concerns for some residents of the city while others say higher wage needed

Now hiring sign on Danforth restaurant
Sign on an Italian restaurant on Danforth Ave. shows they are "now hiring." Hassan Fakir / Toronto Observer

Recent federal and provincial increases in minimum wage are insufficient and not enough to let single-wage earners survive in Toronto, critics say.

The minimum wage in Ontario was raised Oct. 1 from $14.25 per hour to $14.35. On Dec. 29 the federal government is set to increase it again to $15 for the ederally regulated private sector.

“We fought for 15 for so long that 15 is not enough now,” said Jared Ong, a case worker and community organizer for the Workers Action Centre.

“If someone is working 40 hours a week then [they] should not be living under the poverty line,” Ong said. “They work 40 hours but it’s almost impossible to make ends meet [in Toronto]. If our minimum wage does not keep pace it really [forces] workers to [take up more] shifts and work multiple jobs, and it really is impossible to start a family kind of thing.”

The small business crowd see the minimum wage situation differently. As one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, they say it raised questions regarding their survival.

“Our members have always told us that increases to the minimum wage can make things exceptionally difficult depending on the scales,” said Ryan Mullough, senior director of provincial affairs with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. “Ontario has tended to scale according to inflation. The 10-cent increase is something that should be manageable by most small business owners.”

Mullogh also said anyone pushing for a $15 minimum wage in Ontario, is “about a year and a half away from that by inflation.”

In Toronto, where expenses affect the majority of its residents, minimum wage is always on the back of the minds of a large number of people. Scaling wages to inflation does not satisfy many of the city’s population.

The residence of the city have been asking for an increase in the minimum wage and politicians like Jagmeet Singh were platforming an increase to $20 minimum wage.

“Twenty dollars is a bit lower than what the cost of living is in Toronto but it sets the bar across Ontario,” Ong said. “I think it’s a reasonable, inspiring minimum wage without dealing with devisions between cities”

“If someone is working 40 hours a week then [they] should not be living under the poverty line. They work 40 hours a week but it’s almost impossible to make ends meet.”

Jason Ong

“The difficulty of a $20 livable wage will cause a lot of havoc for small businesses,” said Mullough. “When you raise minimum wage it causes a ripple effect across the board. Moving a waiter from 15 to 22–23, then the next person up will be expecting an increase to their wage, etc. We saw this happen during the previous hike the issue with that becomes 1 there’s no guaranteed profit for small businesses.”

Despite claims by Mullough, raising the minimum wage can grant workers access to amenities that they may have been priced out of before, say siome proponents. For example, an increase to the minimum wage can better your health because it addresses issues by giving workers the means to access amenities and goods that they may have been priced out of before. 

“I would say that if you’re a small business and you depend on workers being unable to survive, being paid wages where they’re not able to survive, your business plan isn’t a good business plan,” Ong said. “If your model of an economic business plan is dependent on poverty wages, exploitation, and erratic hours where you have a zero-hour contract then it’s not a business model that should be adopted.”

One of the main reason for raising the minimum wage is housing. A 2019 study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows that, across all of Canada, the average wage to be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment was $22.40 per hour. A one-bedroom would need $20.20 per hour.

To live in the Danforth Village-East York neighbourhood, for example, requires you make an average of $24.49 an hour and work a minimum of 70 hours a week to afford rent on a 1 bedroom apartment, for a 2 bedroom apartment you’d have to make $29.33 an hour at a minimum of 84 hours a week.

There isn’t enough affordable housing for people who desperately need it and with the housing bubble about to burst it only makes finding a home that much harder.

“With the pandemic…. no one can work for minimum wage and increasingly people are realizing that,” Ong said. “[If] you want to hire good quality workers and actually have a successful business you should increase the minimum wage and pay people fairly.”

‘A blunt tool’

 A majority of workers have to face the dehumanizing fact that their survival isn’t a factor when it comes to profit. Canada is a nation where, as of 2019, an average 1.1 million people worked multiple jobs. The slight increase to $15 doesn’t fit the needs of these million plus workers.

“In Canada, a wage increase is a blunt tool — it’s one thing to talk about a $20 raise in Toronto but if Ontario were to do that then it would raise in Windsor and Sudbury, etc.,” Mullough said. “It’s a very blunt policy tool to solve the problem it’s trying to solve. There are other ways to look about it, in terms of cost of living the government can build more affordable housing instead.“

The post-modern way of work during Covidian times where people work from home have made employers attempt to pay employees based on their place of residence and this may be lower than what workers were paid while on the job site.

Both parties agree that a minimum wage increase should be thought out but have their own reasons for thinking so.

CFIB think that an increase, if it were to be a meaningful one similar to the jump to $14, it should be put into effect slowly as to not shock small businesses.

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Posted: Oct 9 2021 7:33 am
Filed under: News