$2,000 donation to help tackle precarious work

Peace & Justice Grey Bruce is a member of the Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force. In partnership with the PTF’s Income Security Action Group, Public Health and United Way of Bruce Grey we are launching a campaign to work on bringing a living wage to Grey Bruce.  The article below highlights the work of the Peace & Justice and new funding from the Society of Energy Professionals to address issues of precarious work.

By Denis Langlois, Sun Times, Owen Sound

Peace & Justice Grey Bruce wants to get as many people as possible talking about what it calls the social and economic dangers of “precarious work.”

The local non-partisan coalition plans to use a $2,000 donation from the Society of Energy Professionals to continue to shine a light on the problem and lobby governments for action to address it.

David McLaren, a member of the organization, said a chunk of the money will be used to produce a report on precarious work, a term used to describe the low-wage and often part-time or temporary jobs that are on the rise in Ontario communities.

“We’re also going to be continuing our partnerships with other people. We’ll be trying to make this an election issue for the municipal election. And we’re going to be producing a lot more materials,” he said in an interview Thursday during an event and cheque presentation at the Grey Bruce Health Unit in Owen Sound.

“The idea is to go out and bring more people into the tent, if you like, under the umbrella, to talk about this. And some of those people will be in positions to do something about it as well.”

McLaren said social agencies and anti-poverty advocates cannot fix the problem on its own. Companies and businesses also need help.

“As soon as (employers) start paying higher wages, then they too become in precarious positions, so the only other place to look is to government. Government does have a mandate, they do have some authority under various legislation,” he said.

Municipalities, for example, can mandate that all of their employees receive a “living wage,” which is about $15 an hour in Grey-Bruce, he said. They can also insist that the companies they contract to provide services will pay their employees a living wage as well, he said.

The province, meanwhile, can require a higher minimum wage, while the federal government can revise its taxation system and legislation to support better-paying jobs, he said.

Peace & Justice Grey Bruce says precarious employment is work that does not pay well enough to get a person to the end of the month. Most often, the job does not include benefits. Some people are working three part-time jobs to make ends meet.

The organization says 20% of Owen Sound families are low income with a median income of $15,590 a year, which Statistics Canada says is about half of what is required for a family of four to stay out of poverty.

McLaren said Peace & Justice Grey Bruce is part of a coalition of organizations that is working to tackle precarious work. It also includes the United Way of Bruce Grey, the local poverty task force, the Grey Bruce Health Unit, municipal politicians and unions.

Dick Hibma of the Society of Energy Professionals said his local, which is made up of 1,100 Bruce Power employees, supports efforts to assist people in precarious jobs that have no voice.

He said his union wants to see all people paid a living wage.

The political decision-makers, including members of the provincial and federal governments, hold the key to fixing the problem, he said.

Kathleen Wynne objects to $14 minimum wage

 27 January 2014

Premier Kathleen Wynne has welcomed recommendations that would increase Ontario’s minimum wage annually by the rate of inflation but is downplaying the notion the $10.25 rate should be boosted dramatically.

The provincial advisory panel’s report released Monday doesn’t address the thorny issue of what today’s rate should be.

The report also recommends businesses get four months notice before any increase takes effect and that the government review the scheme in five years.

“The reason we asked the panel for advice is that we really want to move away from an ad hoc system — or lack of system — of dealing with the minimum wage,” Wynne said Monday in Thornhill before the report came out.

“The panel is going to advise us . . . that we should index the minimum wage to an indicator and we’re going to look at that advice,” the premier said, putting cold water on the bid to dramatically hike the $10.25 hourly rate.

“I know that there’s a call for $14, but we have to move carefully because this is about making sure that we retain and create jobs,” she said.

“At the same time we have to have a system in place that has a fairness to it that . . . has not been the case for many years.”

The minimum wage has increased 50 per cent in Ontario since 2003, from $6.85 to $10.25 per hour, taking it from one of the lowest in Canada to one of the highest. This report will guide our efforts to ensure a fair minimum wage for Ontario’s workers, improve living standards for the most vulnerable and keep businesses competitive.

Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi pointed out in a statement Monday that the “minimum wage has increased 50 per cent in Ontario since 2003, from $6.85 to $10.25 per hour, taking it from one of the lowest in Canada to one of the highest.”

Wait time is three years minimum in Grey County

By Denis Langlois, Sun Times, Owen Sound

Monday, November 18, 2013 6:44:12 EST PM

The hundreds of people who are on waiting lists for an affordable housing unit in Grey-Bruce are, in most cases, living in crisis mode, say local advocates for low-income residents.

Unaffordable rent costs force people to take drastic measures to scrape by, say Jill Umbach, planning co-ordinator for the Bruce-Grey Poverty Task Force, and Francesca Dobbyn, executive director of the United Way of Bruce Grey.

“It’s crisis management for the family,” Umbach said in an interview.

“You’re juggling and juggling and you hope you don’t drop the balls because it will seriously impact your family.”

Some people on the waiting list can pay market rent prices, but do so by cutting from other basic needs, like food, utilities and medication, they say. Some may have their heat or hydro disconnected after bills fall into arrears or must move every few months as they fall further behind on rent and are evicted.

Others may be living in unsafe, substandard units or in remote areas — where rent is cheaper but where transportation is a problem — until a unit opens up, they say.

“People are making awful choices,” said Colleen Purdon, an Owen Sound councillor and longtime social advocate.

She said some people on the waiting list may move out of Grey-Bruce and to an area where affordable housing is available.

“I think we’re losing people because we don’t have affordable housing,” she said.

Nearly 110 seniors, 77 adults and 23 families are on the waiting list for an affordable housing unit in Bruce County.

Grey County has 139 seniors, 300 individuals/couples and 127 families in their queue.

The waiting time in Grey County is at least three years.

The Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, in its annual report on wait times, said there are more applications for affordable units now than ever before.

The average market rent in Owen Sound is $554 for a bachelor apartment, $686 for a one-bedroom unit and $827 for a two-bedroom apartment, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Rent is higher in Saugeen Shores and Kincardine.

The CMHC says a family should be spending 30% or less of their gross monthly income on shelter and utilities to ensure there is enough money for food, transportation, clothing and other essentials.

There are two kinds of affordable housing units: geared-to-income, where rent is calculated at 30% of a tenant’s gross monthly income; and apartments where the shelter costs are 20% below market rent.

A single parent, making $10.25 an hour, earns about $1,776 a month before taxes, which puts the cost of rent, even for a bachelor apartment, over the 30% threshold. Ontario Works recipients receive a maximum shelter allowance each month of $376 for a single person and $648 for a family of three, which is 78% of the average cost for a two-bedroom unit.

Umbach said some people are spending 65% to 95% of their income on shelter and utility costs.

Dobbyn said she is not surprised by the demand for affordable housing units in the region.

“It’s an additional symptom of the precarious work in our economy,” she said.

The local United Way made a submission in October to the Ministry of Labour’s review of the province’s minimum wage, which has been frozen at $10.25 an hour since 2010.

The agency prepared budgets, based on a single parent with an eight-year-old and 15-year-old child, and determined the “living” minimum wage should be $13.21 in Owen Sound or $15.11 in rural Grey-Bruce where transportation costs are higher. A “living wage” would allow the family to cover basic needs, including shelter/utility costs at $993 a month, as well as items that allow for “fuller participation in society,” such as school-related costs, telephone and Internet, swimming lessons and a vacation.

Purdon said to boost the number of affordable housing units, municipalities and others should be putting more heat on the federal government to create a national affordable housing strategy.

She said municipalities, like Owen Sound, should have conversations about policies or incentives to encourage developers to include affordable units in their housing projects.

Dobbyn said it is important to address the stereotypes surrounding affordable housing, so mixed neighbourhoods, with some social units, are welcomed.

Provincially, 158,500 households were on a waiting list for geared-to-income units in December 2012. The average wait time was 3.2 years.

The waiting lists in both Grey and Bruce counties shrunk from 2012 to 2013, although wait times have remained virtually the same.