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‘Bring in a Federal Minimum Wage,’ Says NDP Labour Critic

In 2014 the Liberals backed an NDP motion for a $15 minimum wage. Now they reject it.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 25 Jan 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

As Ontario and Alberta move toward $15 minimum wages, federal New Democrat critic for labour Sheri Benson says Ottawa should establish the same minimum wage for federally regulated industries.

The NDP will be pushing a pay equity agenda when the House of Commons starts up again later this month, and Benson said a federal $15 minimum wage would be a good move from the Liberal government.

“We can’t move forward and be a leader when it comes to important things for working people unless you practice what you preach,” Benson said, speaking of the Liberal government’s narrative of helping the middle class.

In 2014, the NDP, then the official opposition, introduced a motion to institute a federal $15 minimum wage. The motion was rejected in a 138-124 vote in the House.

The Liberals, the third party at the time, voted in favour of the wage boost, but in 2016 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the idea.

Canada once had a federal minimum wage, but it was eliminated by the Liberal Chretien government in 1996.

A federal minimum wage doesn’t mean increasing the minimum wage across Canada. Provinces set their own minimum wages, but anything regulated by Ottawa, such as the financial sector, would be subject to a federal law.

About 900,000 workers across Canada work in federally regulated industries in which the wage would apply. In 2014, it was estimated a federal minimum wage would affect 140,000 of these workers.

It would mean a pay raise for broadcast journalists, who often earn minimum wage outside of major cities, bank tellers, telecommunications workers and airport workers among others.

Benson said the New Democrats have no set plan about how they will push the Liberal government to bring in the wage, but are examining their options.

“I think putting public pressure on the government to put that back on the table and to follow through with the provinces is the advocacy that will do more at the moment,” she said. “That will give the government the opportunity to do the right thing and not be behind the eight ball.”

At the beginning of the month, Ontario upped its minimum wage from $11.60 to $14 per hour en route to hitting a $15 an hour wage in 2019. Alberta is aiming to reach $15 an hour later this year.

Both provincial governments have seen fierce opposition from some in the business sector but also support from labour unions and poverty groups.

Liz Majic, interim legal and outreach coordinator at Canada without Poverty, said the organization would “certainly” support a $15 federal minimum wage but that tackling poverty is a more daunting challenge.

“It’s one piece of what would be a comprehensive human-rights based approach to ending poverty,” Majic said. “Hopefully it would be one part of the federal government’s comprehensive poverty reduction strategy we’re hoping to see in 2018.”

National wage standards for “everyone across the board” and federal pay equity regulations would add to combating poverty in the country, she said. Poverty rates in Canada have been stagnant for about 10 years, even with initiatives like the Canada Child Benefit, she said.

According to the 2016 census, about 4.8 million Canadians live in low-income households.

Majic said often women and visible minorities work in lower wage jobs, and even with an increase in pay they would still be underpaid.

Labour Minister Patty Hajdu’s office did not issue a response about the issue by deadline Wednesday.  [Tyee]

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