Things keep getting worse for low wage workers; report urges ‘decent work for all’


THERE ARE MORE SHIT JOBS in Ontario now than ever before: five times as many workers get paid the minimum wage now, as workers did 20 years ago; one third or all Ontario workers make no more than $16.60 an hour, today. And yet, big business and all their kept politicians, keep claiming Ontario is pretty much a workers’ paradise. A new study from the Toronto-based Workers’ Action Centre (WAC) reveals how deeply absurd and false that claim is.

We are all vaguely aware of this reality: that day-to-day life for low wage workers is no bed of roses. The WAC report details exactly how narrow and unforgiving that life can be.

Ten issues to tackle

The report uses 68 pages of detailed facts, figures and one-on-one interviews with 189 workers to present a fearsome workaday world full of physical, mental and emotional pain and hardship. A world the almost two million low-wage workers in Ontario cannot evade or escape—yet one that is seldom pictured or even acknowledged.

The report provides in-depth analysis of ten issues that need “urgent attention” to provide “decent work for all.” Decent wages, decent hours and paid sick days top that list.

The statistics in the report tell you a lot. The in-person testimonies tell you a lot more.

First the statistics

  • Real wages have declined for two-thirds of workers since the start of the pandemic

  • Residential care workers, farmworkers, harvesters, fishers, building superintendents have no legal claim to minimum wage pay

  • Forty-two percent of workers surveyed normally work more than one job in order to survive

  • In Ontario’s Peel region, 25% of workers went to work with COVID symptoms.

  • 82% of Canadians would rather go to work sick than obtain a medical certificate.2

  • Only 27% of part-time workers have access to sick day benefits, compared to 73% of full-time workers

Now the people

Mira talks about her wages ...
During COVID we were making $18 as PSWs. They increased our wages because they said we can only work in one nursing home. But one full-time job is not enough for my everyday necessities....I feel shame that I have to go to the food bank. If I need something I have to go two or three times to Value Village. I can’t even afford to go to Walmart. I feel so bad.

Keysha talks about her hours ...
Early on in COVID I was working in two long-term care homes and doing home care through the agency. But they don’t give enough hours. It was hard to juggle, especially when I have to take care of my five kids too.... Then I had to give up one of the homes because of the COVID rules ... It was good they increased the hourly wage. But then I lost hours, so I still came out behind.

Tara talks about her lack of sick days...
I cannot afford to miss one day of work as that means a day without wages. If you rely on every single bit of your paycheque to cover your bills, how do you cover any gap if you lose a day’s pay? Well, the only way to do it is with less food. I need to keep a roof over our heads and that is the main expense. So if I have to be hungry, that is what I have to do.

Popular support

Parkdale Community Legal Clinic’s Mary Gellatly, worked on the WAC report. She says: “As we were developing this report, people were really clear about what the problems were and what kind of changes they wanted to see.”

“It’s a combination of low wages on the one hand, combined with lack of regulation around hours of work (that) leaves people in a really precarious position. All the other gaps in protection only make a bad situation worse,” says Gellatly.

While workers can file reprisal complaints if they believe their employer has disciplined them for asserting basic rights, data obtained by Gellatly shows less than a third of these claims are successful.

While the issues tackled in the report are long-standing, Gellatly said she’s noticed a shift on the doorstep when raising them with Toronto residents — perhaps one lasting legacy of the pandemic.

“There was a real resonance with people,” she said. “I’ve not seen that kind of confidence from people (before) to say, ‘yes, this needs to be changed.’”

Read the full report here

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