A minimum wage worker speaks out

in Letters by

As a minimum wage worker, who like most of those I know working minimum wage jobs (both here in Newfoundland and Labrador and across the country), works part time to full time to support myself and those I care about, I know the value of every paycheque I get. I know the value of making even a few cents extra on minimum wage, and the potential benefit to myself and others that a true living wage could one day provide.

When the news featured Tim Hortons franchises cutting benefits in Ontario to make a statement against having to give workers a fair wage I saw people who would sacrifice someone else’s long term future for their own short term gain. I saw people crying foul from their winter homes in Florida because they no longer get to profit off of a broken system. Evidently so does Tim Hortons’ parent company, Restaurant Brands International, which has said that the actions of these ‘rogue’ franchises do not reflect their brand.

Let’s call the actions of these franchises what they are: a tactic, an attempt to be as vile as possible because a raise in minimum wage threatens to put profits back into the hands of those who make those profits possible.

Let’s also be clear that raises like the one in Ontario are long overdue—these franchises have been operating on borrowed time. It is unreasonable to assume that a stagnant minimum wage is enough for someone to pay bills, pay off debt, provide for themselves and possibly others, and then also prepare for the future.

The costs of goods and services go up, accommodation gets more expensive, and the job market requires more and more skill sets even for entry level employment which means workers must invest in education or training just to have any chance at advancing their futures. These factors are why the minimum wage can easily cease being a practical base wage in any meaningful sense.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell this is the case, and the onus is on business to prepare for increases in the minimum wage that are necessary for workers to provide for themselves—to plan ahead and expect that wages will go up.

Transitions like increasing the minimum wage are never going to be easy, in part because it does take time for economies to adjust to those changes. But the extent of what this transition entails is too often blown out of context for the sake of a sensationalist story (or a convenient narrative in the case of some business interests). Media organizations wrongly implied that 60,000 existing jobs might be lost because of wage hikes across Canada—because those organizations misrepresented what a recent Bank of Canada research note actually meant when referring to a slow down in ongoing national job growth.

Fifty-three economists signed an open letter supporting Ontario’s minimum wage increases, noting that price increases would likely be small and are offset for low-wage workers by increased wages, and further noting that many of the arguments used in the push against minimum wage increases were “fear-mongering that is out of line with the latest economic research.” Much of what economists have learned—both because economic theories around minimum wage have evolved and because real world examples have provided data—points to the benefit of increases. Doom-saying predictions about the negative impact of raising the minimum wage in Alberta not only turned out to incorrect, but wage increases there have created numerous benefits such as helping to reduce gender income inequality.

Unfortunately, there will always be someone willing to cut benefits or hurt hard working people just to make a point. The only way to deal with those who would attack their own workers out of spite is to refuse to indulge that spite any further. If these franchises think they can take an inch off government policy on minimum wage, then they’ll take a yard next time.

Not everyone in the business community is going to take the same vindictive stance against employees, and it’s worth remembering minimum wage workers also choose where to spend money. If the Canadian business community wishes to build a respectful dialogue with their employees (and customers) they would do well to take the moral high road on minimum wage.

(Author’s name withheld at their request)

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