Ontario’s Minimum Wage Advisory Panel

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Reading background on the minimum wage advisory panel, and I find this gem of a quote: “By establishing the Minimum Wage Advisory Panel, we’re taking steps to ensure that the setting of minimum wage is out of politicians’ hands,” said Yasir Naqvi, Ontario’s minister of labour. “This will ensure a fair wage for Ontario’s workers and predictability for business.”

Chalk sign asking for a $14 minimum wage.In some ways I can understand this. We need minimum wage to fair and predictable, rising with inflation rather than going through unpredictable freezes and thaws. We need for it rise regularily regardless of whether a political party feels that it would benefit or hurt their electibility to do so. Yet in other ways, I find the quote obnoxious. We elect politicians, right? Why would we want political decisions to be taken out of the politicians hands, and into whose hands will the decision be put?

The Retail Council of Canada (RCC) is claiming to have a role in the creation of the Minimum Wage Advisory Panel. Their website says:

In response to the advocacy work done by Retail Council of Canada (RCC), the Ontario government announced today a Minimum Wage Advisory Panel.  RCC has been  pursuing an approach for setting minimum wage that creates certainty and allows retailers to plan for labour costs in a fair and economical manner going forward in Ontario. The Panel of five members includes two business representatives, one of which is RCC.

Moving the decision out of the hands of the politicians and into the hands of corporate lobby is obviously a bad idea. Will the other voices on the panel be able to hold out against corporate interests? Besides the two businesses representatives and the chair, the person panel also includes a seventeen year old whose online resume contains no service industry jobs, a representative of the Ontario Federation of Labour and a director of a Windsor anti-poverty group. Into their hands we are expected to trust the decisions regarding how minimum wage will be set in Ontario.

The chair of the panel is Anil Verma, who was asked on radio if he would try living for a month on minimum wage. His response was: “Well it certainly would be very hard for me to do with a family of four but I think that we can appreciate her difficulties without actually having to do it.” I am unsure whether he ever found out that the person asking the question was also a person with a family of four, but she was. I understand that it would be hard to suddenly switch to minimum wage – presumably his family is used to living on a higher wage and he can’t suddenly shrink his housing to the size affordable by someone living on minimum wage – but at the same time, I hope he comes to recognize that many of the people living on minimum wage also have families and responsibilities.

When asked about if minimum wage should be set above the poverty line Verma apparently replied: “I guess wages should be set at a level that provide an incentive to work, right, but they should also keep in mind that there is an ability to pay on the other side and you have to balance these interests.” I wish more of my expenses were set according to my ability to pay! I am horrified at the idea we need an incentive to work, because as a busy mother I do tons of unpaid work and see that paid employment is not the standard of whether someone contributes to society or not. I believe that our world would be better off if we had a guaranteed annual income and employers had to actually compete to get us to do their work.

I don’t have much faith in the advisory panel. Minimum wage raises could have been moved to a predictable long-term schedule without another advisory board and the board is quite likely just a way of providing political cover for refusing to adequately raise the wage. However, if a person wants to participate, you can email them at minimumwage @ ontario.ca or go to www.ontario.ca/minimumwagereview/  Doing so, however, is not a substitute for taking more active involvement.

The campaign to raise the minimum wage has a great website with the resources needed to organize your own event. Groups across Ontario are planning events for the 14th of each month. This month they are asking for people to target one of the corporations that is part of lobbying against raising the minimum wage. For example, Loblaws or Toys ‘R Us, since those corporations are board members of the Retail Council of Canada.


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