In the wake of the SARS crisis, the mayor's office has started a campaign to breathe some life into Toronto's flagging tourist industry. It's called You Belong Here, and you might not have heard of it since you aren't a tourist and hence don't have much use beyond not getting SARS. The province, meanwhile, is putting $128 million toward revitalizing tourism (spending most of that on advertising), and Toronto hotels have been given extended deadlines on paying property taxes, all to make up for the reduced flow of tourists. But it seems the trickle-down effect remains dammed up, since none of that money is making its way to the low-wage hotel and restaurant workers who have suffered the most.
Thousands of HERE (Hotel Employees, Restaurant Employees) members have been laid off - 250 workers just recently, discarded like so many complimentary Q-Tips, from the Royal York. Thousands more have had their hours reduced to a mere handful, leaving union leaders the distasteful task of begging for emergency EI funds for their workers. That's because many haven't worked the 600-plus hours required to qualify for EI.
Way back, Henry Ford believed the factory workers in his employ should make enough to purchase one of the cars they built. But even at full hours, can hotel workers afford to stay at the digs they spend so much time cleaning? Post-SARS, some are lucky if they can afford to pay their monthly rent from what they earn for the 20-some hours of work a week they're given, forcing many onto social assistance.
The Ontario Coalition for Social Justice recently kicked off its Ontario Needs A Raise campaign, demanding that the provincial minimum wage of $6.85 be raised to $10 an hour and indexed to living costs. The group wants social assistance rates similarly indexed. One of the Tories' first acts was to freeze the minimum wage, and so it has stayed for eight years. The argument presented for public consumption is that raising it would hurt local business. But the reality is otherwise. "Study after study shows that when low-wage workers get a raise, the money goes back into the local economy,' says the coalition's Sarah Blackstock. "These workers can't afford Florida trips, as some people in this province can. It's good for local business."
In the midst of the current tourist disaster you'd think governments would start to see well-paid local workers as dough-dropping consumers. Hell, they'd flush more cash into this city than our Europe-jaunting Tory ministers.