Pinoy youth groups join labor to press for $14 minimum wage
By Mia Ondo
TORONTO–Pinoy youth groups recently joined labour groups, community organizations and Ontario youth groups in campaigning for a raise in minimum wage to $14 per hour.
Pinoy groups Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada/Filipino Canadian Youth Alliance-Ontario (UKPC/FCYA-Ontario) and Anakbayan Toronto joined fellow youth from the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario and other groups last May 14 in a protest action at Queen’s Park.
The groups raised the issue of minimum wage as an election issue as provincial polls are scheduled on June 12.
While the minority Liberal government of Premier Kathleen Wynne in the last Legislature has mandated an increase of minimum wage from the current $10.25 to $11 per hour effective June 1, groups behind the campaign say the new rate still puts workers 16 percent below the poverty line. In contrast, those behind the campaign said a raise of $14 will bring minimum wage workers 10 percent above the poverty line.
The groups also expressed concern that a proposal by the Wynne government to peg future minimum wage increases to inflation, as embodied in Bill 165, has died when the Ontario Legislature was dissolved recently to pave the way for spring elections.
Alastair Woods, chairperson, Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, said the current election campaign gives youth groups time to pressure politicians running in the June elections to commit to an increase of $14.
“We have a good opportunity to mobilize in our communities; we have time to make sure that the next government makes $14 a priority,” said Woods.
Pinoy youth groups called the attention of provincial candidates to notice the plight of racialized minorities, most especially the low-skilled youth workers who barely have enough funds to go through university. They also called attention to the deskilling and economic marginalization of Filipino youth, including those with university degrees in the Philippines.
“We want to make the youth count in Canada, and as a part of the Congress of Progressive Filipino Canadians, we will not allow our community to stay in poverty. We want a minimum wage that will bring us out of poverty,” said John Nerier, vice-chair, UKPC/FCYA-Ontario.
The Pinoy youths also deplored the entry-level jobs, particularly in the services industries, which have become a long-term option instead of being temporary.
Anakbayan Toronto raised the issue that some Pinoy students are heavily indebted, particularly with student loans, as they come from low-income families whose parents are also low-income earners.
“Raising the minimum wage is not only good for the economy; it is the moral thing to do,” said Sarah Salise, secretary-general, Anakbayan Toronto. “It is about raising the standards for workers and creating a dignified wage. It’s about improving the lives of students, caregivers, parents, and neighbours.
Sareh Serajelahi, a student and member of Workers Action Centre (WAC) challenged Tim Hudak’s Conservative PC party to increase minimum wage instead of creating one million jobs at minimum wage. She was referring to Hudak’s Million Jobs Plan campaign.
“As we go into provincial elections …, we must pressure all party leaders to take a clear plan on this issue; tell us exactly what’s in their plan and ensure all workers have decent working conditions. Ontario does not need a million new jobs, Mr. Hudak. What Ontario needs is a million new decent jobs,” said Serajelahi.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath has promised to increase to $12 per hour if elected.
The youth dramatized their protest against minimum wage by participating in an obstacle course and games to demonstrate the hurdles facing young workers as they try to cope with all the expenses with only minimum wage.
There was a relay race where contestants struggled to balance plastic goblets representing their expenses, such as tuition fees, books, rent, food, TTC fare, to name a few.
There was another game where contestants were challenged to fill water cups, representing expenses, with water from a pitcher, representing minimum wage. A bigger pitcher representing $14 filled out most of the water cups while a smaller pitcher of water representing minimum wage was not enough to fill out all the water cups.
Since last year, groups behind the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage have been holding protest actions every 14th of the month across the province with some featured participants. Participants in last May’s campaign included the Ontario Federation of Labour, CFS-Ontario and the Pinoy youth groups.
The Campaign to Raise Minimum Wage is coordinated by ACORN, Freedom 90, Mennonite New Life Centre, WAC, OCAP, Ontario Campaign 2000, Parkdale Community Legal Services, Put Food in the Budget, Social Planning Toronto, and Toronto and York Region Labour Council.