By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Ontario’s labour minister says raising the minimum wage is not as important to lifting people out of poverty as getting them good jobs.
“That plays part of the solution,” said Minister Kevin Flynn, Liberal MPP for Oakville, who was at Wild Waterworks in Stoney Creek Aug. 14. “But it’s no where near the entire solution.”
He said raising the minimum wage “is not insignificant” but it’s not the main contributor that will help people leave poverty behind.
Flynn said up to 85 per cent of people who have minimum wage jobs are students, just like those employed at Wild Waterworks, who are going to school.
“When you look at the actual people that are actually looking to survive on a minimum wage job, it’s a very, very small number of people,” he said.
Ontarioapproved raising the minimum wage in January where it took effect June 1, going from $10.25 per hour to $11. But legislation to tie further minimum wage increases to cost-of-living died on the order paper when the election took place June 12. The Liberals have promised to re-introduce the legislation. The student minimum wage increased to $10.30, while the minimum wage for liquor servers was bumped up by 65 cents to $9.55 per hour.
Poverty activists have urged the province to raise the minimum wage to $14 per hour to at least cover the rising costs of living. Some advocates are also calling for governments to create a living wage calculated as the cost of paying a person’s rent, putting food on the table and other basic necessities. Hamilton’s living wage calculation would be $14.95, whileToronto’s would be $16.06. TheSeattlemayor recently proposed increasing the minimum wage for all of his government’s employees to $15 per hour, while New Westminister, B.C. and the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board established living wage policies for their employees.
Ryan Sparrow, of the Hamilton group Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage, said the $14 per hour figure was calculated as the proper minimum wage because its 10 per cent above the low income cut off figure. Even though the minimum wage campaign seems to have slowed down, it remains important for people working in low-wage jobs for a full work week that they can still earn enough to live on.
“There is pressure to get employers and governments to provide a living wage,” said Sparrow. “Not much progress has been made.”
He said governments and businesses won’t raise their wages unless they feel the pressure from the public. He said the provincial government picked $11 per hour based on a way to satisfy poverty activists without harming their business interests.
“They didn’t do it out of compassion,” he said. “It was a political calculation for the election.”
Flynn says raising the minimum wage plays a “limited role” in helping people living near the low-income poverty line. Instead, he is examining the idea of companies creating living wage jobs for their employees. It’s an area that Flynn has found intriguing and will continue to study, he said.
“What we are seeing are individual employers in certain jurisdiction that have a corporate policy of paying people a living wage for that area,” said Flynn. “There is a message in there. There are employers who are taking the responsible approach.”
Flynn said the provincial government’s responsibility is to “get people into higher skilled jobs” where they will be able to improve their lives.
“Our job is to get these people into jobs that pay a lot more than minimum wage or a living wage that allows them to buy a house (provides) dental care and health care,” he said.