Faith leaders see how minimum wage hike will improve lives
Aug. 25, 2017
Article from The Star web page
We are four leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Christian faiths. Earlier this year, together with 200 other religious leaders from across Ontario, we released a public statement in support of a $15 minimum wage and fair working conditions.
As faith leaders we see firsthand the stress experienced by workers who are juggling more than one part-time job. Too many of our congregants rely on food banks, despite working long hours. They worry about not spending quality time with their children or being unable to participate in community activities. The parents’ struggle for paying the bills and putting proper food on the table creates unhealthy and unnecessary family strife.
Increasingly, scheduling constraints and economic necessity are preventing our congregants from attending their houses of worship. Parents say they are anxious that their children are not finding full-time jobs, especially ones for which they have trained, and end up moving back home. Decisions to get married or start families are being postponed.
This is why we were heartened when the government tabled Bill 148: the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act as a means of addressing workplace inequality.
First, the increase to a $15 minimum wage is long overdue. As it stands, the current general minimum wage of $11.40 leaves those working full-time more than 17 per cent below the poverty line. Bill 148 proposes to implement a $15 minimum wage by Jan. 1, 2019. We support this and hope it can be extended to all workers. There should be no further delay in ensuring that workers can earn at least enough income to rise above the poverty line.
Another crucial step forward initiated by this government is the provision in Bill 148 to extend wage equality to workers in part-time and temporary employment relative to their full-time and directly-hired counterparts. This measure has the potential to significantly address the equity wage gap for women and workers of colour who are overrepresented among the part-time workforce, often involuntarily. However, in order to be meaningful, the language in Bill 148 must be strengthened. As it stands, the language in Bill 148 provides far too much leeway to employers to use minor variations in duties to escape their obligation to provide equal pay.
While we applaud the government for taking historic first steps to ensure paid personal leave days that can be used in the case of illness, we hope it is not too late for the government to extend it further to seven paid leave days. One doesn’t have to be a doctor to know that illnesses can strike for more than two days annually. And let’s not forget that the cost of providing paid sick days pales in comparison to the costs of sick employees infecting their co-workers and creating public health risks, sending sick children to school or having to leave sick elderly parents alone at home.
Finally, we support measures to make it easier for workers to join unions so that they can, themselves, take the action necessary to bargain collectively with their employers. We support the initiatives included in Bill 148 that start to address the power imbalance between workers and employers by easing workers’ access to unionization. Still, we hope the legislation will go even further by expanding to all workers the card signing option for unionizing, regardless of the sector or occupation.
As faith leaders, we are inspired toward justice by our faith. The Qur’an affirms that the socio-economic welfare of the individual and of society depends on the degree of justice and equity in the distribution of wealth.
The Jewish sage Maimonides stated over 800 years ago, the highest form of Tzedakah — righteous living — commonly referred to as charity, is to help the disadvantaged become self sufficient.
The Sikh gurus’ teach us to fight against injustice and support the repressed by all means, for example, Kirat Karo (honest earning) and Vand Chakko (share and consume) are core teachings of Sikhism along with others.
Similarly, Christians are inspired by the biblical mandate to call for justice for all, including a warning to rich oppressors not to cheat labourers out of their wages.
For all these reasons, we are hopeful that the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act will mark a turning point for Ontario where the working poor are empowered with the tools they need to effect change at work and in doing so, to improve their own lives and to strengthen and grow the local and spiritual communities.
Rev. Dr. Susan Eagle is a Minister at Grace United Church. Imam Abukar Mohamed is a faith leader at Khalid Bin Al-Walid Mosque. Rabbi Shalom Schachter is the Employment Working Group Lead of the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition. Bhupinder Singh Ubbi is the chairperson of Ontario Sikhs and Gurdwara Council.