Manitobans deserve a $15 minimum wage

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

MFL News

Originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press 

No one should work full time and have to live in poverty. But, that is exactly what is happening to thousands of Manitoba workers because our minimum wage is a poverty wage. Having a job and working full time should be a path out of poverty, not a poverty trap, plain and simple.

The governments of Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia have already committed to increasing their minimum wage to $15 per hour. It’s time our province got on board, too.

Contrary to the myths pushed by right-wing think tanks, the evidence is clear two-thirds of the workers who earn a minimum wage are adults, and the majority are women. Keeping Manitoba’s minimum wage at poverty-wage levels means it leaves more women in poverty. It also contributes to Manitoba’s child-poverty problem.

Only 37 per cent of minimum-wage workers are students, who often need to work multiple jobs just to pay the bills. This is especially true now the Pallister government is allowing tuition fees to skyrocket.

And despite the notion most minimum-wage earners work at mom-and-pop stores struggling to survive, the evidence shows the majority of minimum-wage workers work at big businesses with more than 100 employees.

Many minimum-wage workers are moms and dads, everyday Manitobans who are working hard and trying to make ends meet.

That is why Manitoba’s labour movement stands in support of making the minimum wage a living wage at $15 per hour. Manitoba’s minimum wage of $11.15 per hour is not enough to lift those working for it out of poverty.

So far, the Pallister government has been nothing but a disappointment for minimum-wage workers. In its first year in power, it froze the minimum wage, leaving workers $400-a-year poorer because the wage didn’t keep up with the increase in the cost of living. Since then, the government passed legislation which keeps these workers trapped in poverty through paltry increases to the wage.

Last fall, the minimum wage only rose by a nickel and a dime. Working Manitobans earning a minimum wage deserve better. They deserve a path out of poverty.

Keeping the minimum wage at poverty levels forces families to make difficult decisions between paying the rent, buying groceries, or purchasing school supplies for their kids, paying for bus fare and other essential things.

But a phased-in increase to the minimum wage up to $15 per hour would have a positive impact on the economy, as minimum-wage earners spend the greatest proportion of their income on consumer goods and services, mostly in the local economy.

Ask any small-business owner what they need to grow their business, and they’ll tell you it’s important to have customers with money in their pockets to spend.

When employers pay poverty wages, greater financial pressure is placed on government to support families to make ends meet. By paying a living wage, employers assume their fair share of this responsibility.

All workers should be guaranteed a minimum wage which is a living wage. The time has come to tell the Pallister government $15 is fair.

Kevin Rebeck is president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour.



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