Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Everyone but the top executive seems to complain about cost of living increases. Many Ontario families live a day-to-day financial lifestyle and when we take a look at our own governmental resources, it's not hard to see why.

While some provinces have seen an exponential increase in wages between Nov. 2010 - Nov. 2011, Ontarians have seen on average, a 0.5% increase in wages. To make it clearer, a $25,000/year wage earner saw an increase of $1,250/year, or approximately $100/month. Considering how much our cost of gasoline has gone up since I got my first car in 1999 (about $0.55/litre), the wage increase covers about 1/2 of my gasoline costs for the month, and we bike/walk/take transit as much as we can.

Look deeper into the issue and what do we find? Some of our most necessary workers are the ones being hurt the most by poor wage increases in Ontario.

Health care and social assistance workers, public administration have been hit hard, earning less than 2% wage increases. These are the people that run our country. They're the nurses that you complain to when your wait time in the ER has been too long, they are the folks who accept payment for your utility bills and the folks who help the down and out find the right resources to get them back on their feet.

Shockingly, I'm not surprised at the lowest of the low on the no wage increase boat... hospitality workers. Since I have been one myself, I know that cooks and chefs, hotel desk clerks and the like have LONG been living below the national average. For cooks and chefs in particular, and not just restaurant chefs but also those who prepare* food in our hospitals, nursing homes and other care facilities, people who are constantly under the scrutiny of public health offices, people who are responsible for your safety and well-being in terms of the food you eat, are the most underpaid of all.

Does it surprise you that a cook, who has completed college, completed an apprenticeship and has received their Red Seal trade certification, in a top hotel chain may be making less than $14/hr? The cook in your favourite mass produced chain restaurant is quite likely making under $12/hr and the cook in the fine dining restaurant, the one where you pay upwards of $100 for a meal for two may only be making minimum wage? When I started in the restaurant industry I was (wisely, although I didn't know it yet) advised that "the finer the dining, the lower the pay". Whereas, the untrained food production worker in your local hospital or nursing home, often under union wages, is making $16-$22/hourly, where no skills are required*.

This isn't a rant on the poor wages of hospitality workers (although it could be), it's a rant about pay inequality across Ontario. Do teachers deserve more money? Quite possibly so. I know the work and support teachers give to my own children, I want to see them living in a comfortable zone. Since the average "secretary" is now an Administrative Assistant with numerous more responsibilities, he/she probably deserves more as well. The sad fact is, our government got so caught up in bringing a higher minimum wage to our province (which was an extremely good thing) that they forgot the most basic of our rights, mandating wage increases for all workers to cover the cost of living. My own living expenses have risen by close to 6% this year and sadly, if I was still working in the restaurant industry, I'd be praying for just a few basic extended health benefits, never mind a wage increase of any sort that would help cover my cost of living.

When will Ontarians stand up and realize that our current government is doing nothing to equalize wages? When will we stop fighting wage increases for deserving public employees and start fighting for wage increases for ALL deserving residents? Could you live on $20,500/year? Neither can the person who sold you your $100 yoga pants or the person who cooked the restaurant meal that made you rave for weeks.

*Note: Most of us know that much of the hospital, long term care and other institutional meals served to patients is not prepared onsite. Sadly, much of what is, is simply opened from a can or bag and heated up. I hesitate to call the food preparation workers cooks because it is simply not true. On the brighter side, many of these institutions are experiencing a food revolution of sorts, with people finally realizing that good food is the key to good long term health. Let's hope this revolution continues.

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