We live in a country where earnings are distributed very unequally, and many lower paid and insecurely employed workers, especially women, recent immigrants, Aboriginal people, and persons with disabilities, struggle to make ends meet.
One in three men and 40% of women hold jobs which are part-time or temporary, not full-time, permanent jobs. Almost one in four adult workers in Canada today is low paid, earning less than the amount needed to keep even a single person above the poverty line in a large urban centre. Wages for the bottom half of the workforce have barely matched inflation for the past quarter-century as increases in our national income have gone mainly to very high income groups.
Growing wage inequality is the root cause of many social problems which communities confront on a daily basis. Anti-poverty groups have identified low wages and insecure jobs as one of our nation’s key social and economic problems.
In the current “Great Recession”, conditions are likely to worsen as growing numbers of unemployed workers are forced to compete for already insecure and low paid jobs.
Progressive municipal governments must defend decent wages and living standards.
Most direct municipal employees are unionized and enjoy decent wages, benefits, and working conditions, and local governments are an important direct source of good jobs. While local governments have limited budgets, they can and should resist pressures to contract out core work to low wage, private suppliers, and pressures to privatize core public services through so-called public-private partnerships. Research shows that privatization and outsourcing usually increase rather than reduce operating costs due to the pressure on private organizations to generate large profits, and due to the fact that low wage services tend to be of much lower quality.
Progressive municipal governments should join with labour and anti-poverty groups to raise minimum wages
The labour movement is calling on all provinces to implement a minimum wage of at least $10 per hour, the minimum needed to keep a single worker working full-time for a full year above the poverty line. Municipalities can and should lend their support to campaigns calling for an increase in minimum wages and related improvements to provincial employment standards. They can do so by highlighting the causes of poverty in local communities and the experiences of working-poor people and families served by local social service agencies.
Where cities are directly responsible for income and other supports to working-poor families, they should highlight the cost savings and improvements in living standards which could be achieved by increasing minimum wages and income supports for lower income families (such as the Working Income Tax Benefit, Child Tax Credits, the GST credit, and similar provincial programs).
Progressive municipal governments in Canada should develop and implement a municipal Living Wage Ordinance
More than 130 municipal “Living Wage” ordinances have been passed in the U.S. since 1994, including big cities such as New York, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, and Miami. In fact, close to one-half of the U.S. urban population now live in cities covered by some kind of municipal “Living Wage” ordinance.
The basic concept of a living wage is that wages should provide a sufficient income to meet basic needs. These ordinances have been the result of joint campaigns by community groups and labour organizations to raise the wages of the working poor.
Key goals of municipal campaigns have been to boost the push for higher minimum wages, to make sure that local wages reflect local living costs, especially the costs of housing, and to set wage standards for specific occupations to stop decent wages being undercut by low wage, low quality, fly-by-night contractors.
U.S. “Living Wage” ordinances usually apply to companies and noncommercial enterprises working on service contracts with the city and city agencies in areas such as security, building services, food services, and some social services such as home care. They usually exempt very small suppliers.
“Living Wage” ordinances also often apply to companies receiving financial support from a city, including through grants, tax abatements and write-downs, and incentives to real estate developers. Using this tool, they sometimes have been extended to large commercial developments.
Ordinances generally apply directly to only a small proportion of low wage workers, but help set a local benchmark which other public and private sector employers may follow. Studies show that they do raise wages and the cost-impacts for city governments have been small.
In Canada, the City of Toronto has been a leader through a fair wage schedule which applies to City construction contracts and has now been extended to contracts for security services, building cleaning and maintenance, and landscaping.