Making Peace Vigil

Standing up for peace

HAPPY LABOUR DAY

Posted by strattof on September 3, 2012

Labour Day is an annual holiday to recognize the economic and social achievements of workers. In Canada, it traces its origins to December 1872 when a parade was staged in support of the Toronto Typographical Union’s strike for a 58-hour work-week. Since 1894, it has been celebrated on the first Monday in September.

Today, Canadians tend to treat Labour Day as the last holiday weekend of summer. But whether we are barbequing on the patio or cheering on the Riders in the Labour Day Classic, we can take a moment to acknowledge the many accomplishments of Saskatchewan workers. We might also spare a thought for the many challenges faced by the province’s workers, in particular those who work for the minimum wage.

SASKATCHEWAN’S MINIMUM WAGE: THE LOWEST IN CANADA

On Saturday September 1, Alberta will raise its minimum wage to $9.75 an hour, leaving Saskatchewan with the lowest minimum wage in Canada: $9.50 an hour.

Could you live on the minimum wage?

  • A full-time minimum wage earner makes $1,649.20 per month (assuming a 40-hour work-week for 4.34 weeks a month).
  • The average monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment in Regina in April 2012 was $817.
  •  A full-time minimum wage worker cannot afford a one bedroom apartment in Regina, as it would mean spending 49.5% of before-tax income on rent. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation defines “Affordable Housing” as costing a household 30% or less of its before-tax income.
  •  A cashier earning $1,811.30 per month cannot afford a one bedroom apartment in Regina. Nor can a security guard earning $2,031.43 per month or a food services supervisor earning $2,395 per month.
  •  The cost of food in Canada rose 2.1% from July 2011 to July 2012. Many minimum wage workers are forced to choose between paying the rent and buying food.   

 WHO WORKS FOR THE MINIMUM WAGE?

The minimum wage was originally implemented in Canada to protect women from being exploited as cheap labour. To this day, it serves as an important tool for protecting vulnerable workers.

  • Approximately 31,000 people, or 7.3% of the labour force, earn the minimum wage or less in Saskatchewan.
  •  60% are women.
  •  38% are between the ages of 25 and 55.
  •  40% work in the retail trade, while 27% work in accommodation and food services.
  •  78% work in permanent jobs.

As Premier Brad Wall keeps reminding us, “Saskatchewan is leading the nation in economic growth.” Why then does Saskatchewan have the lowest minimum wage in Canada?

BOOM AND BUST, OR EXCESSIVE INEQUALITY

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. In Saskatchewan, income inequality has increased dramatically over the past three decades, with the wealthiest 10% of families making the greatest gains.  

  • Between 1976 and 2006, the richest 10% of Saskatchewan families increased its share of earnings from 23% to 28% of all earnings in the province. In contrast, the share of earnings of the bottom 50% of families declined from 26% to less than 20%.
  •  In 2006, the richest 10% of Saskatchewan families had after-tax incomes of over $110,000, while the poorest 20% had incomes of less than $17,626.
  •  In 2006, the median income of the poorest 10% of Saskatchewan families was $15,400.
  • In 2006, the poorest 20% of Saskatchewan families received only 6% of all Saskatchewan after-tax income. In contrast, the richest 20% received 40% or 6.5 times as much.

Minimum wages are one of a set of tools in the battle against poverty and excessive inequality. Who would be against raising the minimum wage and at the same time be uncritical of the wages of CEOs?  

A minimum wage worker earns $19,790 a year, while the CEO of PotashCorp takes home over $11 million556 times more than the minimum wage worker.

WHY IS THERE NO MAXIMUM WAGE?

WHAT CONSTITUTES AN ADEQUATE MINIMUM WAGE?

1. For the minimum wage to remain adequate over time, it must be indexed either to inflation – as are other government programs such as Old Age Security and the Canadian Pension Plan. In 2011, the Saskatchewan government rejected the recommendation of the Saskatchewan Minimum Wage Board that the provincial minimum wage be indexed to inflation.

2. However, indexing only works if there is an adequate minimum wage to begin with. One way of achieving adequacy would be to phase in a minimum wage of $11 an hour, which would match Nunavut, which has the highest minimum wage of any province or territory, and then index it to inflation.

TAKE ACTION

  • Find out more about the minimum wage by reading a recent report from the Caledon Institute of Social Policy: Restoring Minimum Wages in Canada. Also read Boom and Bust: The Growing Income Gap in Saskatchewan by Paul Gingrich. Both are available online. Much of the information in this leaflet is taken from these publications.  
  • If you work at a secure job, think about joining with others in a one-hour strike on behalf of minimum wage workers.
  • Let Premier Brad Wall know you want Saskatchewan to have the highest (not the lowest) minimum wage in Canada.

‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.’–Karl Marx

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