Continuing Conversation About The Working Poor


The following is a repost of a piece that ran yesterday, in the Cambridge times, written by Marjorie, a BSW student on placement at House of Friendship.  It carries on the theme we explored in a few posts last year and raises some questions that the many people we meet each day struggle with.


My name is Marjorie and I am a member of the working poor.

I have to thank Lisa Rutledge of the Cambridge Times for publishing her series of articles on the working poor last June.

This opened a dialogue which has persisted over time. I have been approached on the street, on the bus, at church, at work, by people who had read these articles, largely because my photo was featured in one of the articles.

I have, for some, become the face of the working poor.

Many wanted to discuss the issues. Many were experiencing the same problems, but others were surprised that I was dealing with these problems. It was not a visible problem to them.

There continues to be a misconception of just who the working poor are, and whether it is because of their behavior that they remain poor. Hopefully that misconception is being corrected due to articles such as the series done by Ms. Rutledge.

Now that the conversation has begun, where do we go now? How can we collectively improve the lot of the working poor.

It seems to me to be grossly unfair for a person to work full-time, to not be able to provide for their family in a meaningful way.

There is an argument for decent work, for decent wages. What would be a decent wage?

Our present minimum wage of $11.25 puts a full-time employee below the poverty line. This means that sometimes the choice is between food and rent, that affording pizza day at school, or the class trip for the children is not a possibility.

This singles out our children in a negative way, and often makes us, the parents, feel as if we are inadequate and failing our children.

There is a campaign across Ontario, and indeed North America called the Fight for $15 and Fairness. It speaks to a minimum wage of $15. Is this the magic number? Is this the number at which the working poor will no longer be poor?

No it is not a magic number, but it is a number at which we would be able to provide the basics for our families when working a full time job. We would be able to provide shelter and food for our families without the struggle and choices we have to make now. It would be a start.

The fairness portion of this campaign is equally important.

Many of us are involved in precarious work. We work in the food or retail industry where the employment is mostly part time. Often the scheduling of workers is haphazard, and we do not know week to week when we will work, or how many hours.

There is no way to plan for things as simple as doctor visits, family time, PTA meetings or any of the other functions that we may need to plan ahead for.

Often workers are told they have to stay available, and if they are called to come in to work and they are unable to, they are fired or experience a drop in their work hours. There needs to be fairness in the way people are scheduled to work, so they get a decent amount of hours and at least two weeks’ notice on their schedule so they can plan their lives.

Another area is one concerning sick days.

At this time, if we are sick and stay home, we do not get paid.

With a minimum wage such as we have, none of us can afford a day without pay.

Therefore we go to work sick. How many fast food workers go to work sick? What about our child care providers?

I had a situation where a coworker came to work with influenza. That puts me into jeopardy as I have a problematic immune system.

However, he needs to come to work for the pay.

How often does this play out in our communities?

According to our medical fraternity, even Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-term Care advises people to stay home if they are sick, especially when it comes to infectious diseases like influenza.

The Public Health Agency of Canada, and the World Health Organization give the same advice.

Without legislated sick day pay, the working poor will continue to work while sick, as we cannot afford a day without pay.

The Ontario government is reviewing the Employment Standards Act for the first time. We need to make it known to the government that the working poor needs changes urgently to be made to this Act.

We need a $15 minimum wage, we need fairness for employees in regards to scheduling and respect in the workplace, we need five to seven days paid sick leave per year.

We also need every employee to be covered under the Employment Standards Act, with no exemptions which is the status now.

Join us, as we send petitions to the government asking for these changes to the Act. We will also be marching on April 15 to further raise our voices to the government.

We will meet at Victoria Park in Kitchener (Charles St. entrance) at 11:30 am.

Please feel free to contact me

Together we can make the change.

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