Ontario’s Liberal government is appointing its long-awaited advisory panel on future increases to the minimum wage, which has been frozen at $10.25 the last three years.
The six-member panel, which will be announced Wednesday by Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi, will hold public consultations across the province and conduct an in-depth review of how minimum wages are calculated in other provinces and around the world.
As promised in last spring’s provincial budget, the panel will include representatives of labour, business and youth and report within six months.
The objective is to “provide predictability” on future increases for both businesses and workers to help them plan, said Jonathan Rose, spokesman for Naqvi.
The advisory panel was first promised in the Liberals’ 2011 budget. Finance Minister Charles Sousa renewed the pledge as part of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s first budget in May.
Anti-poverty activists had called for a $14 minimum wage this year. At that rate, a person working a 35-hour work week at the minimum wage would earn about 10 per cent above the Low Income Measure, province’s official poverty line.
“Workers can’t survive on $10.25 an hour and businesses are hurting because workers can’t afford to buy their products,” said Deena Ladd of the Workers’ Action Centre, a non-profit workers’ collective that has been lobbying for a $14 minimum wage.
Ladd and other advocates want Ontario to update the minimum wage annually by the cost of living, as is the practice in Alberta, Nova Scotia and Yukon. (Saskatchewan and Newfoundland are considering the move.)
Ontario’s panel is yet another stalling tactic, they say.
“Minimum-wage workers in Ontario have had their wages frozen for three years. Instead of an increase they are getting a consultation,” Ladd said.
“By the time the panel makes its recommendations and the government acts in the next budget, it will be four years.”
Temporary agency worker Angel Reyes, who earns $10.50 an hour sorting trash in a recycling plant, hasn’t had a raise in almost four years.
“It is very hard work and very hard to pay the bills,” said Reyes, 59, who nets $339 a week and pays almost half of his income on rent.
“When your landlord calls, you have to pay. There is food, transportation, laundry. It’s very tight,” he said in an interview. “We need a $14 minimum wage now.”
Small and medium businesses, however, say they can’t afford a minimum-wage increase.
Instead, they say they hope the panel looks at other options to help low-income earners like Reyes, such as increasing the personal tax exemption, so workers can keep more of what they make.
“It’s really important to have a clear process,” said Plamen Petkov, Ontario director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
“The last thing we want is to continue with spontaneous decisions about minimum-wage increases.
“If the government’s objective is to help people in low income, students or recent graduates, then they should be looking at increasing the personal tax exemption.”
In Alberta, people can earn about $17,000 before paying provincial income tax while in Ontario provincial income taxes kick in after less than $10,000, he said.
“Let’s also make sure we give them the opportunities to advance, to learn, to train and not get stuck on minimum wage for the rest of their life,” he added.
Article by Laurie Monsebraaten for the Toronto Star