When will we see a Living Wage in Canada?
The past years have seen the growth of the “McJob” economy. Many workers, including, too often, the young, women and persons from Aboriginal and racialized communities, have been frozen in dead end low wage jobs with few benefits. Many have also been left with too few hours of work. In most provinces, the minimum wage has been kept at low levels or allowed only small increases. Annualized, it generally results in a salary below the poverty line.
But there are hopeful signs elsewhere. In many American states, the minimum wage now exceeds that of Canadian averages. In the USA, many cities and institutions have enacted living wage policies which bring wage rates which exceed the poverty line.
Many countries in the world (but not Canada) have a national minimum wage. For example, in nine of the European countries in France, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the UK there is a national minimum wage, fixed by government at an hourly, weekly or monthly rate. In two other countries, Belgium and Greece, there are intersectoral agreements. In another group of European countries, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Norway and Sweden, there are national rates for industries set by sectoral collective agreements. In Britain, the new minimum wage is set at around $9.25 and will reach $9.94 by October 2003 .
The paper will present the arguments for and against the living wage. It will examine how a national living wage could be achieved in Canada against a backdrop of the recent history of the minimum wage. It will examine who is working below the poverty line in Canada today using new data runs from Statistics Canada surveys. As well, the paper will examine the campaigns for a living wage in the USA and the lessons for us in Canada.
John Anderson is the Vice-President, Research at the Canadian Council on Social Development ,a national social policy and research organization based in Ottawa. For the last 13 years, he taught in labour studies at McMaster University and other Ontario universities. He has also worked for the Ontario Federation of Labour and other unions. As a researcher he has recently produced a study on Democracy and Decentralization in the Development Process 2002) for the ILO in Geneva. He is the aautheor of many articles and the co-editor of two books on employment and technological change Re-Shaping Work volumes 1 and 2 published by Garamond Press. Mr. Anderson is a frequent commentator on social issues on English and French media.
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