Protesters gathered in Toronto’s west end today to rally in support of raising Ontario's minimum wage.
About 100 people were outside Dufferin Mall Saturday afternoon. Many were holding red balloons and wearing t-shirts reading “Fair Wages Now.”
They were calling on the province to raise the legal minimum wage to $14 per hour. It’s currently at $10.25, where it’s been frozen since 2010.
Organizers of Saturday’s rally say the current rate leaves many workers below the poverty line, even if they have a full-time job.
"Someone making $10.25 right now is almost 20 per cent below the poverty line," said Sonia Singh from the Workers' Action Centre. "We're talking about around $19,000 a year."
According to Statistics Canada, more than 800,000 Canadians were working at or below minimum wage in 2009.
Estina Sebastian-Jeetan, a mother-of-two who attended the rally, described some of the challenges she faces as a low-wage earner. "Sometimes I skip my medication in order to make ends meet," she said.
The province is currently conducting an in-depth review to explore how it could increase the minimum wage in a way that would satisfy both workers and businesses.
"We want to make sure that fairness and predictability is the key hallmark," Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi told CBC News reporter Steven D'Souza.
Naqvi said that linking wage increases to inflation rates — which is what happens in other provinces — is one of the options under consideration.
Some business groups are in favour of wage increases — as long as it's gradual.
"We're very adamant that 40 per cent increases in one year is too much," said James Rilett, Ontario vice-president for the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association. "It would be too much for our members to absorb."
But economist Jim Stanford says that minimum wage would actually benefit retailers.
If you put money into people's wage bills, then they're going to go out and spend it, especially those at the lower end of the labour market who don't save very much," said Stanford, who works for workers' union Unifor.
In Canada, Nunavut has the highest minimum wage at $11 per hour. Ontario is tied for fourth place, along with British Columbia and Manitoba. Alberta has the lowest rate at $9.95 per hour.
Advocacy groups in Ontario staged protests similar to Saturday's rally in March, the month when minimum wage increases have historically happened in the province.
Low wages have also been a hot topic in the U.S., where fast-food workers recently organized national walkouts.