It is Time to do the Right Thing.

A commentary on fair pay and gender equality.

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Two stories caught my attention this week; both stories about doing the right thing. The first was a story I saw on CTV News about a Bracebridge, Ontario.-based Muskoka Brewery that was paying its employees a living wage.  That is a wage that is high enough to maintain a normal standard of living. Muskoka Brewery is the first brewery in Canada to do so. The president of the brewery, Todd Lewin, said the decision “definitely had an impact on the budget,” but the benefits have so far outweighed the cost. Mr. Lewin said boosting the hourly wage to $15.85 has resulted in a better workforce.

The CEO of Cambridge, Ont.-based Grosche International, Helmi Ansari also pays his employees at least $16 per hour; a move he says paid off in better productivity, improved customer service and staff retention. Mr. Ansari believes paying their staff a minimum wage in his coffee and tea merchandise business would make the company less successful.

Mr. Ansari is also a co-founder of the Better Way Alliance, an organization that is calling on companies in Canada to embrace the living wage. The website says:

There is a myth that the “high turnover and low-pay” model is the secret to success in business. But many employers see things differently. We know from experience that a commitment to decent work makes good economic sense. By speaking out, we hope to open up the conversation about what makes the most sense today.

American author, Mark Twain, once said, “Always do right – this will gratify some and astonish the rest”. Hearing of businesses doing something altruistic astonished me.

Typically, what is reported in the news media is corporate greed. The Huffington Post reports, the middle class in the United States is on a 40-year decline. The article says millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages and average family income is almost $5,000 less than it was in 1999. I am sure Canada is no different.

The article reports that the 99% of all new income is going to the top 1%, while the top one-tenth of 1% own almost as much wealth as the bottom 40%. In the last two years, the wealthiest 14 people in the United States increased their wealth by $157 billion. That increase is more than is owned by the bottom 130 million Americans combined. It seems to me that businesses, and especially the corporations can easily afford to pay a living wage.

In my province, the provincial government has promised to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018. That sparked much debate in the province. Really, the minimum wage debate has been going on for years.

Those in favour of raising the minimum wage say it would improve the overall standard of living for minimum wage workers by providing them with a more appropriate income level to handle cost of living increases. It is pretty difficult to refute that argument. Some also say it would boost economic growth as consumer spending typically increases with increases in wages. A higher minimum wage would put more dollars in consumer’s hands and that money would subsequently flow to retailers and other businesses.

Those arguing against increasing the minimum wage say it causes businesses to increase prices, thus fuelling inflation. Opponents argue that raising minimum wage increases operating expenses for companies thereby increasing the prices of products and services to cover their increased labor costs. Increased prices mean an increase in the cost of living consequently offsetting any advantage gained by workers having more dollars in their pockets. One of the biggest arguments in my province is an increased minimum wage causes the potential for job losses.

No matter how much I read in terms of research into the minimum wage debate, there seems to be research to support both sides of the issue. There seems to be no clear answers. I do know from experience that it is impossible to have a decent standard of living on a minimum wage. I used to have my students do a project in one of the courses I taught in high school. The project was to have my students plan a budget while living on minimum wage. They had to rent accommodations with or without a roommate. They had to plan expenses such as food, utilities and transportation. The bottom line is not one of my students could come up with a budget living on minimum wage that suited their desired standard of living. It was not possible. As of today, the minimum wages in Canada range from $10.72/hr. in Saskatchewan to $13.00/hr. in Nunavut.

A report released in 2016 calculated the living wage for Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, as $20.64 an hour. This would be the amount needed for a family of four with both parents working full-time at $20:64 to pay their necessities.  The province of British Columbia’s minimum wage at the moment $10.85/hr. In my view, the right thing to do is for businesses to pay a living wage.  It is morally right! It is the altruistic thing to do! It is our duty to do what is best for our neighbour. It should be a no brainer.

The other story that caught my attention was that Iceland is the first country to propose equal pay legislation. Iceland’s parliament is considering a new law forcing most companies and institutions to prove that they are paying men and women equally. Any company with 25 or more employees will have to go through audits and receive certification that equal pay is provided, or they could face fines (see BBC). That is “ground breaking”. That is fantastic! Hopefully, more countries will follow suit.

I worked in a career where gender pay was equal. It didn’t matter whether you were male or female, you got paid the same. Your pay was determined by years of education and years of experience. It seems that is not the case in most working environments. The Globe and Mail 2015 article, Gender pay gap in Canada more than twice global average, study shows, says Canadian working women are making about $8,000 less a year than men doing an equivalent job. I once thought that gender inequality was becoming a thing of the past, but once again I was just naive.

So, I applaud the living wage movement. It is the right thing to do. I give a “thumbs up” to Iceland. Why? Because it is the right thing to do. To quote one of my heroes, Mohandas K. Gandhi, “You have to do the right thing… You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result”.

Author: Sommer season all year

I am a retired school teacher. I taught high school for 35 years.