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Anti-Poverty Activists Campaign to Increase the Minimum Wage in Ontario

by Leslie Munoz

Anti-poverty activists organized by ACORN Ottawa rallied on Preston Street outside the offices of the Ministry of Labour on Mar. 21.  The Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage of Ontario to $14 was launched by a coalition of community groups and activists across the province aiming to lift workers out of poverty. The Liberals have responded to the campaign by stating that minimum wage will not change anytime soon.

“The minimum wage has been frozen for three years while rent, food and transit costs have soared! It's time to melt the freeze,” according to a public statement issued by the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage.

Minimum wage has been frozen at $10.25 since 2010- an amount that no longer reflects the cost-of-living above the poverty line in Ontario in 2013. The campaign is part of a greater movement aimed at reducing poverty in Ontario and holding the provincial government accountable for austerity measures.

The goals of the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage of Ontario include obtaining a minimum wage that is set 10 per cent  above the poverty line as well as lobbying the government to calculate a wage using a 35- hour work week. A third campaign goal includes obtaining guaranteed annual adjustments to the minimum wage to ensure it reflects annual changes to the cost of living in Ontario.

In 2008, the Ontario Liberals developed a five-year anti-poverty strategy that has yet to yield any tangible results, according to anti-poverty advocates.

The Liberal government responded to the demands presented by the campaign in early May through the release of the annual budget. The budget proposes the creation of a review board to look into increasing the minimum wage but suggests no immediate concrete action to address the issue.

Minister of Finance Charles Sousa defended the government's decision while publically promoting the budget in Hamilton on May 9th.

"Minimum wage is something we have acted upon since 2003,” according to Sousa."It was the lowest of all provinces throughout Canada and consecutively for seven or eight years, we kept increasing it and it became the highest in Canada.”

“At that point, we took a pause, recognizing that we had a duty to stimulate economic growth as well,” he said.

Minister of Labour Yasir Naqvi stated that more work would be done to address minimum wage in years ahead.

“We [the Liberal Government] recognize that there is more to do and look forward to positive discussions with business, labour and community groups on developing an appropriate mechanism for determining the minimum wage in the future," said Naqvi shortly after the budget was released.

Advocacy group members of the campaign have rejected the inaction and apologies for austerity driven by the Liberal government.

“Ontario needs a minimum wage that lifts workers out of poverty now; no delays, no commission” according to a statement on the Workers' Action Centre website.

“If the Minister of Labour creates an advisory panel to study the minimum wage, it will be […] a decision to keep minimum wage workers in poverty [as well as] a waste of time and tax payers' money.”

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Topics: Poverty

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