Government announces $15 minimum wage as United Way Perth-Huron declares $17.95 per hour living wage

·7 min read

HURON-PERTH – As part of the Fall Economic Statement, the Ontario government announced on Nov. 2 that it will introduce legislation that, if passed, would raise the general minimum wage from $14.35 to $15.00 per hour effective Jan. 1. Under the proposed changes, the special minimum wage rate for liquor servers would be eliminated and they would be entitled to the general minimum wage. Students under 18, homeworkers and hunting, fishing and wilderness guides would also see an increase in their special minimum wage rates.

“Ontario’s workers have been the unsung heroes of this pandemic, as they’ve stocked shelves, kept our supply chain moving and helped so many of us enjoy a meal among family and friends at a local restaurant,” said Premier Doug Ford. “When we asked labour leaders what their priorities were, increasing the minimum wage was at the top of the list.”

Liquor servers have previously received below the general minimum wage, based on the belief customer tipping can make up the difference. However, many of these workers have increasingly seen their tips pooled and redistributed among many staff, making it harder for them to make ends meet.

If the legislation is passed, liquor servers would be treated more fairly and see a 19.5 per cent increase in their minimum hourly wage, as it changes from $12.55 per hour to the harmonized $15 per hour minimum wage.

Workers who receive special minimum wage rates will also receive increases in their wages. Students under the age of 18 who work 28 hours a week or less when school is in session, or work during a school break or summer holidays would see an increase from $13.50 to $14.10 an hour. Homeworkers, who do paid work in their own homes for employers, would see an increase from $15.80 an hour to $16.50 an hour. Hunting and fishing guides currently have a minimum rate of $71.75 for working less than five consecutive hours in a day and $143.55 for working five or more hours in a day. Their new proposed rate would be $75.00 for working less than five consecutive hours in a day and $150.05 for working five or more hours in a day.

“An incredible debt of gratitude is owed to the workers of Ontario,” said Minister of Finance Peter Bethlenfalvy. “These dedicated men and women kept store shelves stocked and supply chains going through the pandemic. However, we also recognize that for too long workers have been falling behind and that wages for many have not kept up with the cost of living.”

“In recent months we have seen the cost of living rise,” said Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece. “Inflation and supply line issues are not helping the situation. One of the ways the government is responding is to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour to help people who need it most.”

The Ontario government’s announcement of the increase to the minimum wage was made during Living Wage Week in Ontario which ran from Nov. 1 to Nov. 5. The United Way Perth-Huron’s (UWPH) Social Research and Planning Council (SRPC) announced that the new living wage is $17.95 an hour for the region.

“The importance of a living wage is a meaningful discussion that needs to continue,” said SRPC Director Joelle Lamport-Lewis. “We understand the obstacles businesses face as our economy recovers from COVID-19 and the need to attract and retain a workforce. We also recognize how many local people are forced to make hard decisions for their families when it comes to allocating extremely limited resources and those challenges have only been magnified by the pandemic. The SRPC and UWPH want to remain at the forefront of the discussion around how to improve local lives and help ensure the recovery is a fair one for all members of our community. Living wage advocacy is a big part of that conversation.”

The SRPC is comprised of volunteer community representatives dedicated to the collection, analysis and distribution of information relating to local social trends. Research enables UWPH to discover and understand the root causes of issues affecting Huron-Perth and in turn mobilize the community.

Based on a 35-hour work week, the Huron-Perth living wage was calculated using local data and considered the living expenses of a weighted average of family types including a family of four, a single mother supporting a seven-year-old child and a single adult, once government transfers and deductions were taken into account. Everyday expenses in the calculation included food, clothing, shelter, childcare, transportation, medical expenses, recreation and a modest vacation. The living wage calculation does not include expenses such as retirement savings, debt repayment, homeownership, savings for children’s education and it only includes a small cushion for emergencies or hard times.

“It was important to factor in different family types to more accurately reflect changing demographics and differing demands on individuals and families,” said Lamport-Lewis. “Childcare is a huge expense, for instance, and single adults don’t face those costs — or have access to those subsidies — so all those differences need to be taken into account so we can arrive at a more representative number.”

“Employers across Perth and Huron have been very open to hearing about the benefits of a living wage,” added UWPH Executive Director Ryan Erb. “Paying a living wage isn’t an easy decision — especially in these challenging times — but we find that businesses understand this is about more than just dollars and cents; it’s about investing in the long-term health of our community. We are also able to point to current living wage employers who are telling us it’s improving their bottom line, so this can be an opportunity for businesses as well as a benefit to workers.”

The General Manager of the North Perth Chamber of Commerce, Sharon D’Arcey, said they believe in the work being done by the SRPC.

“I have had good conversations and some difficult ones with business owners about this subject,” she said. “Everything is going up – food, housing, fuel – and it makes it difficult for everyone. This living wage makes people aware of the realities of people’s existence. If there’s extra money at the end of the month, there is also more spending in our community, maybe an improved quality of life.”

North Perth Mayor Todd Kasenberg said the municipality has realized the value of being a living wage employer.

“I’m proud to say that North Perth is one of the earliest (certified employers in the) public sector in the initiative that recognizes employer commitment to fair and appropriate wages that interact with costs of living,” he said. “It is both not surprising that we have seen a hike in the costs of living that contribute to the calculation of the living wage, and worrisome that we see real impacts from these increased costs of living in the labour market. We’re doing our part, and are certainly committed to continuing to do our part to remain a certified living wage employer. We continue to strive to go beyond this – by being a preferred place to work.

Kasenberg invites employers in the community to pledge to be living wage employers.

“I assure that council continues its work on the weighty file of attainable and affordable housing to achieve best community outcomes,” he said.

Williams Drainage Inc. was one of the earliest businesses in the region to become certified as a living wage employer.

“At Williams Drainage, our motivation for being a living wage employer is the holistic benefits of the program,” said co-owner Alisia Williams. “Our employees, our business and our community all benefit. When an employee is compensated for their work with a wage that allows them to not only afford their monthly expenses but also engage in their community, that employee will feel valued. From a business perspective, we see higher employee retention, reducing employment costs from hiring and re-training new employees, fewer sick days, increased employee engagement and positive community relations.”

Williams said their business philosophy concerning their employees has always involved a sense of family or community.

“We believe that if we care about our employees they will, in turn, care about our business,” she said. “Our employees feel valued, appreciated and supported. This motivates them to put in the effort needed for Williams Drainage to be successful. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.”

Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner

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