Don’t Lena Moses and her husband deserve a raise?
The Scarborough couple both work full time, but still can’t afford winter clothes for themselves or their two children, Moses said during a mid-day rally in Scarborough recently to support raising Ontario’s minimum wage.
Before arriving from Sri Lanka in 2010, she was an administrative secretary. Here, she found assembly work in a factory for the adult minimum of $10.25 an hour and is now a receptionist for a law firm, which recently increased her hourly pay to $11.
Her husband works in the kitchen of a restaurant and is paid $10.25 an hour.
It’s hard to live on such wages. After paying rent and the TTC, there’s not much left for groceries and everything else, said Moses, whose family has gotten by so far wearing clothing donated by friends.
They still don’t have anything suitable for the colder months, she said.
“When winter comes you need winter shoes, winter clothes. It’s quite expensive.”
Moses and others who gathered at the corner of Kennedy Road and Eglinton Avenue are placing their hopes in a province-wide campaign to raise the wage to $14 on Friday, Oct. 18.
Chanting “Decent earning, decent living,” and “No more poverty wages,” members of the group walked south on Kennedy to a Tim Hortons, where they lined up along the drive-through lane.
A minimum wage of $14 an hour won’t make much difference to the bottom lines of corporations, argued Regini David of West Scarborough Community Legal Services, one of the rally organizers.
Ram Alexander, who carried a sign in Tamil, said he has spent the last 17 years working for minimum wage in Toronto, often at two or three jobs in restaurants and factories.
His wife and four children in Madurai, India look to him for money - they, like him, had to leave Sri Lanka as refugees - but there’s never enough left over.
Alexander said he’s had to move many times because he couldn’t pay the rent, and he’s struggled with depression. He hasn’t seen his family since arriving in Canada and his low earnings make sponsoring here impossible, he said.
“I am very, very hardworking. I am very tired.”
With $14 an hour, Alexander said, he can at least afford to eat and live, and maybe send a little money to his family.
Ontario’s Liberal government has raised the minimum wage from $6.85 since 2003, and has appointed a Minimum Wage Advisory Panel which will report this winter on the wage and how it should be set in future.
Ontario and British Columbia are the only Canadian province without a formal way of setting the minimum wage, which the campaigners want tied to inflation.
They asking anyone interested to attend a 7 p.m. public meeting on the subject on Nov. 5 at R. H. King Academy, a high school at St. Clair Avenue and Kingston Road.
Patrick O’Neill, who said he worked as a security guard for minimum wage until he became disabled, said people should send Premier Kathleen Wynne and Scarborough MPPs the message they need $14 an hour.
“We know we are determined and we will not give up,” he said.
A man walking by the Tim Hortons disagreed with the marchers. “Are you on drugs?” he asked Guled Arale, a student activist from University of Toronto Scarborough.
Arale said the man’s argument, that a $14 minimum wage would drive businesses from Ontario, was wrong. The minimum wage has been frozen for more than two years, and with TTC fares, tuition and other costs increasing, it’s getting harder for working students to support themselves, he said.
Minimum wage is “a human rights issue” in Ontario because most people who earn it are young, women and people of colour, said Neethan Shan, executive director of Council of Agencies Supporting South Asians and president of the Ontario New Democratic Party.
Regardless of what they make now, everyone, including the corporations, will benefit from a minimum wage hike because people who earn minimum wage spend it in their own communities, Shan said.
More on the wage campaign is at raisetheminimumwage.ca while information on the panel is at www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/es/advisorypanel.php