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Making ends meet on minimum wage

14 Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty protest in support of boosting the minimum wage to $14 an hour.  Photo By: Heidi Ulrichsen

14 Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty protest in support of boosting the minimum wage to $14 an hour.
Photo By: Heidi Ulrichsen

Newly emigrated Christian Ho may return to Brazil during the summer months because without regular OSAP payments, he can’t seem to make ends meet. Ho, 34, is a student at George Brown studying community work, is doing his co-op placement at the Worker’s Action centre of Toronto and currently works in retail for $11.00 an hour.

“During summer, I was living with the part-time job I have. It was still a struggle. I didn’t have much money saved at the end of each month…I realized that it’s cheaper for me to go back to Brazil in the summer and just stay there rather than stay here.” In response to his own challenges, Ho became involved with various campaigns to raise the minimum wage. Volunteering at the Worker’s Action Centre prompted him to go back to college to study community work. Through his involvement with the Worker’s Action Centre, Ho speculates that if $11.00 isn’t enough to maintain his own standard of living, people trying to raise a family on minimum wage must struggle that much more. “If people are desperate, they have to find other ways to provide for their families.”

Ho has also begun to realize that many of his peers and colleagues at the Worker’s Action Centre face the same financial challenges that he does. “There are people in their 40s and even their 50s that are still getting paid minimum wage who want to do something about it. They want a better life as well. The minimum wage actually affects everybody. There are a lot of my friends and colleagues from college that are involved with the campaign as well because they can relate.”

Ho believes that the campaigns to raise the minimum wage have been very effective in promoting the cause and informing the public. He adds that the only drawback of the campaign is that a subsequent increase of $0.75 may not be enough to make a significant difference. “It’s going to help a little bit, but for people who have kids to support, it’s not really going to do anything.”

Furthermore, Ho said the minimum wage is not enough to cover emergencies. “I just injured my shoulder and had to see a doctor. I had to spend $70.00 on medicine.” Many of Ho’s peers are raising families as well as going to school and are doing it all on minimum or close to minimum wages. “They wanted to quit their jobs to focus on school. Now that we have mandatory placements, it gets really heavy on people who have kids to support.”

Do employers hear their employees? Walmart Canada’s Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability, Andrew Pelletier argues that they do. Pelletier told Canada Press that all growing businesses need to invest in their people. “As a growing company, we need to be a competitive employer in order to attract and retain people. We’re going to do whatever we can do to be a competitive employer to attract and retain people. We are very much at war for talent.”

Pelletier also said that the wages at Walmart are set based on the provincial wage levels and that the entry-level wages will rise with the upcoming provincial minimum wage increase to $11.00 an hour. “The wage levels set by the province provide a framework and the competitive marketplace provides an additional framework for us to work within.”

Pelletier points out that any individuals working at Walmart in entry-level positions and supporting a family are able to advance to higher paying positions and said that Walmart hopes to provide that opportunity. “We have a lot of situations where people may have started in an entry level position and are now in management and supporting families and doing so very well because of how they’ve advanced through the process.”

Ho isn’t satisfied. “I felt vulnerable. I felt that Canada wasn’t helping me in any way.” A consensus has yet to be reached between Ontario’s employers and employees.

By Jessica Vomiero

One Response to Making ends meet on minimum wage

  1. Anonymous

    March 1, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    This is an interesting individual experience, however, I’m not sure that increasing the minimum wage will actually help on a system-level. Increasing minimum wage means that employers may actually have to cut-down on the number of employees they can hire as their expenses would increase. This might be an unintended negative consequence. Also, like interviewed Ho above, not making “enough” stimulated him to re-train to improve his situation. I disagree with the statement “Canada wasn’t helping me…” as I feel that individuals need to promote themselves and seek out opportunities that actually DO exist in this country. Not being satisfied with our current situation is often what motivates many of us to seek change, which often is positive. We cannot forget who is paying the wages. If we want to have jobs available, we as a nation, need to make it attractive for businesses to want to be here…increasing the minimum wage would be a major disincentive. Also, the concept of having “enough” is also very subjective.

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