$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.

Poverty is a Health Issue: What to look for in the next Poverty Reduction Strategy

September 24, 2013 by 

Living on a low income affects people’s lives in many ways. It can mean having fewer opportunities to fully participate in important day-to-day activities like work and education. But living on a low income can also contribute to having poorer health than those who are better off. Poverty is a health issue, but poverty and poor health are not inevitable.

Ontario is currently working on a new five-year Poverty Reduction Strategy. This provides an excellent opportunity for the province to set out their concrete steps to reduce poverty in the short- and medium-term. A new Wellesley Institute report details how the province can improve the health of all Ontarians by reducing poverty. This is the first in a series of three blogs that set out how to create a Poverty Reduction Strategy that enables good health for all.

Income security

Ensuring that all Ontarians have adequate income is critical to achieving the Poverty Reduction Strategy’s goals. Employment should be a path out of poverty, but we know that many employed Ontarians are unable to afford basic necessities and that this can have negative health impacts.

One area that needs urgent attention is Ontario’s minimum wage. The minimum wage has been frozen at $10.25 since 2010 and there are a growing number of Ontarians who are ‘working poor’. Working poverty can have serious health impacts: Ontario data show that 66 percent of people who were working and made sufficient incomes reported their health as excellent or very good as compared with 49 percent of those who were working poor. Setting the minimum wage at 10 percent above the poverty line and indexing it to inflation will be good for the health of Ontarians.

The Ontario Employment Standards Act sets out the minimum terms and conditions that all employees can expect with regard to wages and other working conditions. These standards are important to all workers, but they are especially so for marginalized workers who are least able to negotiate fair wages and working conditions for themselves. Ensuring that people get paid for the work that they do, and that their pay is in compliance with the law is an effective way to reduce poverty. The Poverty Reduction Strategy should commit to improving enforcement and modernizing the Employment Standards Act.

Increasingly, Ontarians are finding themselves in low-wage work without security or benefits. Precarious forms of employment – like part-time, contract positions that do not offer benefits – are on the rise. Many of these jobs are in the service sector where it is very difficult for employees to choose to unionize and to keep their union once they have decided to join one. Ontario’s Labour Relations Act needs to be updated to reflect the changing structure of the labour market. The Poverty Reduction Strategy should update the Labour Relations Act to protect workers’ collective bargaining rights.

The Poverty Reduction Strategy also needs to address the adequacy of social assistance rates. Social assistance rates are currently set at levels that are too low for recipients to maintain good health. Last year, the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario recommended the creation of a Basic Measure of Adequacy that included the cost of food, clothing and footwear, basic personal and household needs, transportation, and shelter. The Poverty Reduction Strategy should commit to ensuring that social assistance rates are set at a level that allows recipients to afford these basic necessities of life.

These are four areas of action in which policy solutions to improve income security are well-know, actionable and supported by research. The new Poverty Reduction Strategy should take action in these areas to improve the incomes – and health – of all Ontarians.

Make Affordable Transit an issue in Ontario’s Next Poverty Reduction Strategy

September 2013

Affordable transit is essential to the health of people living on a low income. It enables access to employment, education, health services, food, and recreation and other city or community services such as places to go to get relief from dangerously hot or cold weather. It also plays a key role in promoting inclusive communities.  In many areas across the province, the lack of affordable transit for people living on a low income is a significant problem – as identified through previous provincial government consultations on poverty reduction and social assistance:

“In community after community, lack of access to public transportation was a significant issue we heard about from people living in poverty; people simply could not afford to take the bus. That means that they are unable to apply for jobs or access resources that are there for them and their children. ”
-Breaking the Cycle: Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy, 2008

” We frequently heard about difficulties in accessing transportation. In urban areas, the concern is the affordability of public transit. In many small towns and rural communities, the concern is the lack of any kind of public transit. This is especially difficult for people with disabilities. ”
– Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario, 2012

Many communities are recognizing that cost is a barrier to transit use and are implementing a range of affordability strategies. For example, British Columbia and Saskatchewan make transit passes available at discounted prices for low income residents. In Ontario, transportation subsidies may be available to social assistance recipients for employment-related activities and medical therapy or treatment; however 

transportation costs for other important activities are not covered – such as for grocery shopping and support for children who need to be dropped off and picked up at day care or school, and/or older children who need to travel to school by transit.

Several cities and regions in Ontario are also implementing discount transit pass programs for low income residents and enabling community agencies to purchase tickets at a reduced rate from transit authorities to provide free of charge to community members accessing their services.

Being able to travel without restrictions to work, school, recreation and other places is important to creating healthy and inclusive communities. Making transit affordable and accessible for people living on a low income in communities where there is a public transit system is the best way to ensure that day-to-day activities are possible. Where there is no public transit system, local solutions must be identified and funded. 

When you attend a consultation meeting or send in your ideas, tell the government you would like to see the following included in Ontario’s next poverty reduction strategy:

1. Provide adequate and dependable funding to public transit across urban areas throughout the province, funding that allows transit to be affordable to all people who need it.

2. Implement a provincially funded discount transit pass program for people living on a low income in communities with a public transit system.

3. Convene an advisory group to examine best practices for increasing access to transportation for people living on a low income in communities without a public transit system.

4. Ensure that social assistance covers the regional cost of transportation in addition to other basic needs.

5. Ensure that the determination of minimum wage levels addresses the cost of transportation.

6. Ensure that any new funding for transit expansion target populations/places that are currently underserved and that a portion of these funds be used to improve transit affordability for people living on a low income.

7. Advocate for both provincial and national transit strategies.

Social Planning Toronto