Betcha didn't even know it was missing, but Parkdale-High Park MP Peggy Nash wants to bring back the federal minimum wage.
Think back to 1996 and you might recall the Liberals axing the national wage standard for jobs in the federal realm and passing the buck to the provinces to set the bar.
Well, Nash wants to change that, and in a new private member's bill announced late in October, she proposes a nationwide figure of $10 an hour for folks working in broadcasting, banks, post offices, airports, telecommunications and mining. She's hoping this wage nudge encourages the provinces to follow suit. "It would once again set a benchmark for the provinces and territories," says Nash.
That's a benchmark the business community has yet to warm to. Retail Council of Canada national affairs VP Derek Nighbor warns that such a drastic increase in a short time frame would cost jobs. The Council instead advocates more income tax cuts for low-income earners. The upcoming 25 cent raise from the current $7.75 Ontario minimum wage in February sounds more reasonable (surprise, surprise) to Nighbor.
For its part, the federal Labour Ministry says it's looking into a number of recommendations from Harry Arthurs's Fairness At Work: Federal Labour Standards For The 21st Century, a two-year, $3.1-million federal inquiry that was unveiled the same day as Nash's bill. It calls for a reinstated federal minimum wage. (The report suggests a figure of $10 would be fair and should be introduced over four to six years.) Apart from federal employees, the plan would cover only private-sector jobs in banking, transport and communications, which already pay well above the minimum.
Sounding a lot like the Retail Council, senior director Neil Gavigan of the Labour Standards Review Commission says, "If you make the standards too high and too expensive, you'll kill jobs. People working in lower-paid jobs would have no jobs, so they'd hardly be better off."
Parkdale-High Park MPP Cheri DiNovo, who has put forth a similar private member's bill mandating that Ontario's minimum wage be upped to $10 an hour, accuses both the Tories and Liberals of "lacking compassion" and siding with business owners. Nonetheless, DiNovo's bill passed second reading at Queen's Park on November 2, and the bill now heads to committee.
"We want employers to pay their workers a wage they can at least pay their rent and feed their children on," says DiNovo. "We have situations where a woman with a child working at minimum wage 40 hours a week makes less than she'd get on welfare."
About 1.2 million people make less than $10 an hour in this province (67 per cent of them women), and 200,000 of those are scraping by on the bare-bones minimum of $7.75. If it passes, DiNovo's legislation will mean about $400 more in struggling workers' pockets a month.
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty founder John Clarke thinks both DiNovo's and Nash's efforts are laudable, but he's pessimistic about a meaningful wage increase being enacted that would lift millions of Canadians out of poverty. "To win a $10 minimum wage in the present climate would be a significant victory and would probably need more than a gesture in Parliament."