On April 14, a crowd of about 175 people marched in downtown Toronto to demand a $14-an-hour minimum wage and improved legal protections for precarious workers. The action was spearheaded by the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage, a coalition of community and labour organizations.
Participants gathered in front of Old City Hall at Queen Street West and Bay Street and marched to the headquarters of Randstad, one of Canada’s largest temp agencies. At the rally, speakers and marchers were united in their message: Ontario workers deserve a $14 minimum wage now! The Ontario Liberal government’s recent decision to increase the minimum wage to $11 an hour on June 1 from the current rate of $10.25 is an important victory for workers that came as a result of ongoing political mobilization. However, the crowd was unanimous in condemning this move as wholly inadequate, as it will keep thousands below the poverty line. Marchers also denounced the particularly harsh exploitation that workers employed by temp agencies face, demanding improved employment standards protections and aggressive enforcement of those provisions already on the books.
Among the speakers were those who had experienced exploitative working conditions, poor wages, and a lack of benefits, including Lorraine Ferns, a former temp worker and member of the Workers’ Action Centre, and Sue Holdaway, a retail worker and member of UNIFOR Local 414. Andria Babbington, Vice-President of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council; Alastair Woods, Ontario Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students; Laura Thompson, a member of the OPSEU Women’s Committee; and others addressed the crowd and offered solidarity.
Thompson noted that the Ontario government has declared April 16 Equal Pay Day – which represents the amount of additional time, on average, a woman would have to work into a new year to earn as much as a man earned during the preceding year. She explicitly highlighted the link between precarious work and gender inequality, pointing out that a majority of low-wage workers are women, and that women continue to earn less than men across the board.
Among the crowd were a variety of unionized and non-unionized workers from different sectors, including members of Access Alliance, UFCW, the Toronto Social Planning Council, UNITE HERE, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, CUPE—including about a dozen members of the CUPE 3903 Flying Squad—and more.
The April 14 action is part of an ongoing series of demonstrations occurring on the 14th of each month, to show the government that workers will continue to mobilize until the goal of a $14-an-hour minimum wage is realized. The next mobilization will take place on Wednesday, May 14.
To get involved in the $14 Minimum Wage Campaign, please visit www.raisetheminimumwage.ca. To sign a petition urging your Ontario MPP to support current legislation to protect workers and regulate temp agencies, please visit http://togetherontario.org/decent/.
If you like this article, register for Marxism 2014: Resisting a System in Crisis, a weekend long political conference June 14-15 in Toronto. Sessions include "Workers power: Canada's radical labour history", and "The fight for workers rights" and "Why is capitalism in crisis?"