Wednesday, February 21, 2007

could an MP and his family live on minimum wage?

The NDP: challenges the other parties to address the matter. Canadian society is rich enough that we should not expect workers to toil for wages that will not cover the cost of decent housing or put nutritious food on the table.

My challenge is, for every MP: empty out all your food and staples from your cupboards, and donate them to their local food bank. And for one month: keep an accurate tab on what you spend to for yourself and your family; and document your new menu plan. Purchase only the very basic essentials of both food and household staples. That means no lattes, no lunches out, no dry cleaning, no housekeeper, turn the heat down by 60% of what you would normally have it, no entertainment, take the bus ect.

Then, at the end of the month, subtract your grocery / staple expenses from the 'net pay' of minimum wage earner. Subtract: rent (look in your newspaper and figure out what an average rental is for a two-bedroom place), utilities (call the hydro / electric company and ask for an estimate on what utilities would cost); some school fees for your child (maybe a few extra dollars for that school field trip or costs for that extra school project); house contents insurance; bus passes for a family. Subtract a few more incidentals like clothes and shoes for a dependent (we all know most often the parent(s) goes without); bus passes; some items from the pharmacy like cough syrup, aspirins (the stuff phara-care doesn't cover); maybe your kids birthday present and put away for christmas; car insurance/gas and those unexpected repairs (you need that car to get back and forth to work if there is no public transportation; and day care.

And any spare change you have left over you better save up for any dental and/or eye glasses you might require. And most often, these minimum wage jobs don't have sick days, so you better have a few extra dollars in the budget for the day when you lose a day or two in wages ... . And the next few days don't sleep, because your going to be too worried about how you are going to get through next month, or worrying about how you will feed / clothe / maintain yourself when you are older, as there wasn't any money left to put aside for an rrsp ect.

Let Ottawa lead on $10 basic wage
TheTorontoStar / Editorial / Feb 20, 2007

Canadians who care about social justice should pay close attention to Parliament today, when members debate a New Democratic Party motion to bring back the federal minimum wage, pegged at $10 an hour.

While some regard the motion as largely symbolic, given that most federal workers make more than that, the debate will tell us a lot about where Prime Minister Stephen Harper's social priorities lie in the run-up to a federal election, along with those of Stéphane Dion's Liberals and Gilles Duceppe's Bloc Québécois.

The measure deserves broad support. Its impact on the federal scene would be modest, affecting some 18,000 workers under federal jurisdiction who earn less than $10. That's about 2 per cent of the federal workforce. Most federal workers are unionized and higher paid, although there are vulnerable groups, particularly women and new immigrants working in part-time or temporary jobs.

But far more importantly, in NDP Leader Jack Layton's words it would "set a certain standard," encouraging Ontario and other provinces to raise their own minimum wages high enough to provide workers with a decent living. That matters at a time when contracting out and other job shifts are increasing the number of temporary and part-time workers in every jurisdiction. More than a third of Canadian workers are now employed in such work, many working two and three part-time jobs to get by.

The case for reinstating a federal basic wage was driven home by Harry Arthurs, a Toronto law professor and noted labour mediator, in a report for the federal government last November. After a two-year inquiry into the Canada Labour Code he urged Ottawa to reinstate the federal minimum, abolished in 1996 by the Liberals when they decided to adopt provincial rates as the federal minimum in each province. Now minimum wages vary widely from a high of $8.50 an hour in Nunavut to a low of $6.75 in Newfoundland.

While Arthurs did not set a hard dollar figure for a federal minimum wage, he said that it ought to be high enough that a person working full-time for a year should not live in poverty. Based on current Statistics Canada low-income guidelines, a single person needs an hourly rate of at least $10 an hour to escape poverty.

Many don't earn anything close. In Ontario, 1.2 million earn less than $10 an hour, and 200,000 earn less than the current minimum of $8 an hour. The provincial Liberal government, while raising the minimum in each of the past three years after it was frozen for nine years by the Conservatives, has balked at a $10 minimum, arguing it will kill jobs.

But the issue, as Arthurs said, is one of "fundamental decency that no modern, prosperous country like Canada can ignore." The New Democrat motion recognizes that, and it challenges the other parties to address the matter. Canadian society is rich enough that we should not expect workers to toil for wages that will not cover the cost of decent housing or put nutritious food on the table.