When Amrit Singh, a 22-year-old studying Economics at York University was asked by the Workers Action Centre if he wanted to help organize the first ever town hall related to the campaign Fight for $15 And Fairness, he jumped at the opportunity.
Amrit and a bunch of other twenty-something South Asians were tasked with galvanizing the target audience- the large South Asian community, many of whom are new immigrants impacted by an inadequate low minimum wage of $11.25.
They went to parks, spoke to every South Asian they encountered, urging them to attend and make their voices heard at the Town Hall. They plastered posters outside places of worship and areas frequented by the community. Close to a 100 people showed up at the Town hall venue which had the capacity for 120. Although this event was held with South Asians in mind, fewer than expected showed up. That poor response has to do with what one community leader observed: “Our community is very passive. We complain about an issue but won’t do anything about it, hoping someone else will deal with it.”
The three York University students Gurnishan Singh, Amrit Singh and Gurkirat Batth spoke at the town hall.
Gary Sran a York University PhD candidate in macroeconomics pointed out 70 per cent of those earning below $15 an hour in Ontario are not students and 43 per cent of those earning the current minimum wage of $11.25 are over the age of 25.
Another commonly held notion was that minimum wage only affected students. The audience was reminded that 70 per cent of those earning below $15 an hour in Ontario were not students but many older workers who had families to support. Upto 43 per cent of those earning the current minimum wage of $11.25 are over the age of 25.
Clearly this is an issue that affects new immigrants and many families in the Peel Region.
In an interview with Can-India, Amrit Singh who grew up in Brampton said that the current minimum wage made no sense if a worker putting in a 40 hour week was still below the poverty line.
“The $15 an hour is great for one person, but for a family of three to be above the poverty line, the minimum wage should really be $19. That would be a living wage. But getting businesses to get to $15 an hour would be a great start,” he said.
In the weeks before this Town Hall, Amrit spoke to dozens of new immigrants and found that many of them were stuck for years working at jobs they got from temporary agencies. “One person had worked at a job he got through a temp agency for six years at the same wage and in the same position. The agency gets a cut of his pay. We have done so much outreach through radio and conversations to educate people and also get them to raise the issue,” he said.
Raising the minimum wage is crucial in today’s economy. Young people out of university are forced to work retail or factory jobs for minimum wage, they are forced to compromise because of crushing student loans and fewer job options in their fields. New immigrants and foreign students settle for minimum wage jobs because that beats sitting around for waiting for better job offers. Meanwhile workers forced into such jobs slowly but surely end up slipping into the ranks of the working poor.
As for the other myth that businesses can’t afford to pay their workers more, here’s the thing- 50 per cent of workers earning minimum wage work for large multi-national corporations that have more than 500 employees. Only 29 per cent of minimum wage earners are in small businesses with less than 20 employees. Upper management and owners of small businesses give themselves handsome raises and bonuses but cry poverty when asked to raise the wages of their workers. -CINEWS