Thousands march in Ontario for $15 minimum wage!


JUST nine days after the Ontario election, thousands flooded the streets outside the Ministry of Labour and marched to Queen’s Park on Saturday in support of the $15 minimum wage and fairer labour laws.

People came in from Niagara to Ottawa, Brampton to Oshawa, and joined the rally carrying signs that read ‘WE are the people’ ‘Hands off our $15 minimum wage,’ ‘Hands off our paid sick days,’ ‘Hands off equal pay for equal work.’

Some of Ontario’s new labour laws are scheduled to take effect on January 1st, 2019. ‘The people of Ontario expect a $15 minimum wage on January 1st, 2019 and you can see from the crowd that I am not alone,’ said Yvette LeClair, a Toronto worker.

‘Like so many people I know, I’ve been juggling two and three jobs, with no benefits for too long.

‘The $14 minimum wage, the right to equal pay for equal work and the paid sick days that came into effect this year are making a big difference, but I – and millions like me – are anxiously waiting for the increase to $15 and fairer scheduling rules.’

Workers in Ontario won important labour law reforms in 2018 with the passage of Bill 148: Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act. The Fight for $15 & Fairness Campaign and the Ontario Federation of Labour held the joint rally on Saturday to send a message to the incoming government that the majority of Ontarians want and support decent work.

‘During the election campaign, we heard on the doorsteps of working people that $15 is critical,’ said Pam Frache, the provincial coordinator for Fight for $15 & Fairness. So if Doug Ford is truly for the people as he claims, if he wants to stand up to the elites, he has to implement the changes our communities fought so hard for.

‘Don’t believe the Big Business lobby. A $15 minimum wage will transfer over $5 billion in corporate profit to workers’ pockets. That’s good for workers, for our communities and for Ontario’s economy because what small businesses need most are customers.’

Co-founder of Canada’s Leap Manifesto, Naomi Klein, echoed Frache’s statement. ‘Margaret Thatcher once said: “The lady is not for turning”. What Doug Ford is seeing today is that in Toronto, the workers are not for turning. Movements are not going to give up on the gains they have won without a fierce fight. If Ford tries to ram his austerity agenda through anyway, his base will see once and for all that he never was on their side.’

While running to be the leader of the Progressive Conservative party, premier-designate Doug Ford had campaigned on cancelling the $15 minimum wage and implementing a tax cut instead.

Advocates and economists alike have said this will leave workers worse off.

‘Ontario’s labour movement wants to be sure one thing is clear to everyone: a $15 minimum wage is a better deal for workers than a tax cut,’ said Ontario Federation of Labour President Chris Buckley. Many minimum wage earners will not make enough money to qualify for Doug Ford’s $800 tax cut.

‘But a $15 minimum wage will put almost $2,000 more in workers’ pockets if they work full time.

‘Our government should be lifting people out of poverty by raising the minimum wage, not taking away the pay increase they need to feed their families.’

Nova Scotia Federation of Labour President, Danny Cavanagh, said: ‘It’s hard to fathom, but all the right-wing foolishness that a higher minimum wage will see jobs float away and prices increase are just that, foolishness.

‘In Nova Scotia, between 2007 and 2011, minimum wage increased by amounts greater than the recent fifteen cents, which is a weekly raise of just $6 for someone working full-time, forty hours a week. Food bank use in the province is up by 40 per cent in the last few years, and we know that it is growing.

‘We have been living in a low wage economy for a while and the evidence is clear, the divide between the rich and poor continues to widen. Raising minimum wage will help, but will not be a complete fix to poverty-stricken families.

‘In today’s job market people are not choosing to live in poverty and we need to stop blaming poor people for the situation in which they find themselves.We watch our province continue to brag about the continued improvements in tourism numbers and that’s great.

‘Many of those making less than $15 an hour work in those seasonal industries and are struggling to pay rent, feed their families and buy heating oil. They need a raise. If you are a seasonal worker, things are even tougher. Poverty is a problem we need to tackle together because the costs associated with poverty affect us all and our economy.

‘Research shows that poverty increases health care costs, and poverty adds to income inequality, which slows growth. Like many of you I am concerned that 130,000 people in Nova Scotia are making $15 an hour or less and that 86 per cent of them are over 20 years old and 56 per cent are women. ‘We need to understand that 58 per cent of those 130,000 workers work at firms that employ more than 100 workers and 65 per cent work full-time and almost 50 per cent of those workers are the breadwinners in their families.

‘Now for the shocking news: We saw the minimum wage increase in this province by as much as $24 dollars a week back in 2010. The reality is that minimum wages in other provinces are heading to $15, that’s $4 more an hour or just over $8,000 annually.

‘If employers think it’s hard to get workers now, what will happen when people move to make more money? Paying a worker $20 more a week is not a big deal and the sky didn’t fall between 2003 to 2011 and it will not fall today.

‘Since the early 1960s, the business lobby has been citing the same reason why raising the minimum wage would be bad – prices would increase, wage increases were too much, too soon. They claim it would discourage employers from offering work to the low-skilled workers or fewer jobs for teenagers and cuts to hours and job loss.

‘Employers continue to toss out the same false arguments. It’s never a good time they claim, to which we say, when will it be a good time? Never, as far as they are concerned. Given the fact that in Nova Scotia, 86 per cent of people making $15 or less are over 20 years old and 56 per cent are women and 58 per cent of those 130,000 workers work at firms that employ more than 100 workers and 65 per cent work full-time.

‘Almost 50 per cent of those 130,000 workers are the breadwinners in their families, well it’s clear, it’s time to increase minimum wages by more than a mere 15 cents or $6 a week. We can and must do better.’

• Last Wednesday afternoon, the provincial government announced it would not proceed with the Sodexo takeover of Food, Environmental and Patient Portering Services in New Brunswick Hospitals. After petitions, rallies, meetings and citizen advocacy, our efforts to halt privatisation has been successful,’ said Norma Robinson, President of Local 1252, the New Brunswick Council of Hospital Unions.

Over 280 jobs in hospitals would have been be eliminated if the government had given the green light to Sodexo. I am quite pleased the government has listened: you can’t cut your way to prosperity. I am proud to see how members, citizens, the Vitalité Health Network, health professionals, economists and even farmers came out in support of public healthcare, rather than private interests,’ said Daniel Légère, CUPE NB president.

In December of 2017, a joint labour-management steering committee launched the Task Force on Food, Environmental and Portering Services with a mandate to identify the current gaps and opportunities with respect to the provision of food, environmental and portering service within the Regional Health Authorities.

‘The Task force did its job and concluded that privatisation was not the solution. The new Health Minister, Benoit Bourque, did listen to the workers’ concerns on Sodexo,’ said Robinson. Our work is not done. There remains a significant amount of work to be done as we move forward to make improvements to our public healthcare system, but today we celebrate this victory,’ she concluded.