Minimum wage pits Ford against the little people

Upping the minimum wage to $14 this year and then to $15 as of January was one of the many straws Kathleen Wynne grasped at in her bid to hang on to power.

In that regard, it was a faux-populist move. Her replacement, Doug Ford, goes even bigger on the faux populism – buck a beer! – in the vein of many would-be demagogues, most noticeably due south of here. Taking the opposite tack on the issue, however, Ford is taking aim at the $15 minimum wage.

It doesn’t matter that about two-thirds of Ontarians support the wage hike, including many of the “little people” Ford claims to champion. What trumps that is opposition to higher wages by certain corporatists – i.e. the “elites” Ford says he opposes. Again, like a certain U.S. president, the premier says one thing for the low-information voter and does just the opposite.

As we’re seeing with the apropos-of-nothing attempts to halve the size of Toronto council, Ford doesn’t let timing enter into his very pressing agenda. That a wage increase of benefit to the better part of two million workers is just a few months away, with plans having been made accordingly, doesn’t enter into the equation – Ford’s plans trump all, the public good notwithstanding.

While Ford’s Conservatives try to paint the move as a boon for small businesses, some 62 per cent of such businesses owners say the minimum wage should be at least $15 an hour, according to polls. Leading the charge, instead, are the lobbyists for multinationals. They and other companies that are the poster children for precarious, low-paying jobs opposed Bill 148, which introduced two paid sick days to all workers, unpaid emergency leave, fairer scheduling laws and the $15 minimum wage.

Along with the wage increases, the bill mandates equal pay for part-time, temporary, casual and seasonal employees doing the same job as full-time employees; and equal pay for temporary help agency employees doing the same job as permanent employees at the agencies’ client companies. Also included is at least three weeks’ vacation for all employees after five years with a company.

Though an attempt to retain power, the Liberal bill was welcome news to a growing number of low-wage workers who face precarious working conditions of no steady hours, no benefits and no provisions for emergencies.

Good jobs are increasingly hard to come by. The low-wage workforce in Ontario has grown by almost 100 per cent over the past two decades, vastly outstripping the 30 per cent growth in total employment.

Not only are a growing number of jobs paying less, full-time work is harder to come by. More Ontarians are left to scramble for multiple part-time and contract jobs, none of which provide security. A bigger share of employees in Ontario work less than 40 hours a week today than was the case in two decades ago, encompassing more than half of the workforce.

It used to be that bad, low-paying jobs were the rite-of-passage experience for teenagers. Today, however, 66 per cent of minimum wage workers are older than 20 and only 34 per cent are teens. In other words, two out of every three wage earners are adults trying to make ends meet on a minimum wage that keeps a full-time, full-year worker below the poverty line.

Already today, $15 an hour is deemed below the liveable minimum wage in most of the province, Waterloo Region included. How populist is rolling it back?

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