$16.55 an hour is a paycheque-to-paycheque wage, not a living wage
Even with the minimum wage increase on October 1, young Ontario residents are hardly making enough money to cover their basic living expenses
On March 31, 2023, the Ontario government announced it would be increasing minimum wage by 6.8 per cent to $16.55 an hour on Oct. 1, 2023. The Ford government stated that this pay raise will help offset the rising costs of living for nearly one million low-income workers. On the official Ontario government website Monte McNaughton, the former minister of labour in Ontario, declared the wage increase was a fair and balanced approach that would lead to building a stronger province for all residents.
But $16.55 an hour is still far away from truly being a fair wage.
A minimum wage is the lowest rate an employer is legally required to pay their employees. In Canada, minimum wage policy was created to protect workers from exploitation. However, minimum wage employees still face workplace mistreatment. Low-income workers are the most vulnerable to wage theft. They aren't paid for overtime work, are expected to do more work for less pay, and are not given their legally mandated meal breaks.
In 2018, 52.3 per cent of minimum wage workers were between the ages of 15 and 24 years old, making young Canadians the largest demographic at risk of minimum wage exploitation. In addition, young workers may not be aware of their rights as an employee, meaning they can be easily taken advantage of.
In my own experience working minimum wage jobs, I faced significant mistreatment. While working as a shift manager at McDonald's, I was rarely paid for my overtime work and I was never given medical benefits, despite being a full-time employee. I was also expected to pick up the slack for other employees and give up my breaks to help support staff during peak business hours. Yet I never received a raise for my additional work. I ultimately quit because I felt so unvalued by the company.
Other young Canadian workers are experiencing similar disparagement in their work environments.
Minimum wage tends to be the lowest number the government can get away with while still maintaining positive public perception. Even with the recent increase, working a minimum wage job can mean being condemned into poverty because these boosts fail to reflect the rising costs of living.
As Ontario continues to grapple with inflation, it is also experiencing a housing crisis and growing food insecurity. Minimum wage doesn't allow people to live comfortably. Young Canadians are struggling to picture their futures as half are living paycheque-to-paycheque. And workers that insist on higher pay are often labelled as difficult, have their hours reduced or are fired. Similarly, increases in minimum wage are also linked to decreases in healthcare insurance offered by employers.
In contrast to minimum wage, a living wage is the hourly rate an employee must be paid, before taxes, to cover their basic living expenses. The Ontario Living Wage Network calculates living wages by taking into consideration the current costs of food, services, shelter, transportation, internet and cellphone plans among other expenses.
Living wages look like having your basic needs met consistently, while having money left over for other things meaningful to you. It means being able to eat nutritious food everyday, having access to services such as healthcare and being able to afford housing with the necessary amenities.
Living wages varies by region across Ontario. The OLWN determined that residents of the GTA should be paid $25.05 an hour and residents of Hamilton $20.80 an hour. Evidently, $16.55 an hour is far from being a living wage.
Employers have a corporate responsibility to protect their employees by providing them with the funds for affording a comfortable standard of living. To live without the constraints of poverty is a basic human right that must be respected.
The future doesn't need to be as unliveable as it seems. It is possible for more employers to start paying living wages. The OLWN certifies employers who provide living wages and publicly recognizes these businesses. Businesses that want to ensure their employees are able to live comfortably should look to their leading counterparts for guidance.
Introducing a living wage can provide businesses with many valuable benefits. When workers are paid well, businesses can become more profitable and sustainable. Living wages are a win-win for both employers and employees. Some companies are putting in the work, but our provincial government still has a long way to go if it truly wants to build a better, stronger province.