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In the unequal world of work, Canada's a bit more egalitarian

Many countries are seeing wages become increasingly unequal, with the middle class losing ground, but Canada bucks that trend, according to the International Labour Organization.

In the U.K., U.S. and Germany, the share of pay going to highest income workers has risen

Bangladeshi garment workers on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Jan. 9, demanding better wages. (Associated Press)

Nearly half of all global pay goes to 10 per cent of the world's workers, while the lowest-paid 20 per cent get less than one per cent of wages, according to a study by the International Labour Organization.

The U.S. and U.K. are seeing wages become increasingly unequal, with the middle class losing ground, but Canada bucks that trend, according to the ILO.

The UN agency found the top 10 per cent of Canadian wage earners make about 24 per cent of total wages, a number almost unchanged from 2004 to 2017, the period measured. 

That's lower than most of the world, including Britain with 32 per cent going to top earners and the U.S. with 33 per cent. In some countries, as much as 80 per cent of income goes to the top earners

In the economies of the U.K., U.S. and Germany, the share of pay going to highest income workers went up, while the middle 60 per cent of workers declined during the study period.

In Canada, the middle class remained stable in its share of earnings, though many argue people are being stretched because of the rising cost of living. The lowest 10 per cent of earners got just 1.7 per cent of income.

In developing economies, such as China and India, there has been strong economic growth and a growing middle class, so while average incomes have grown, inequality has remained deep, with the very poor falling behind.

The poorest countries have the greatest inequality in wages, among them the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia, Niger and Uganda.

The inequality between rich and poor worries the UN agency, which is concerned about unrest and waves of refugees tied to desperation.

Some workers earn $22 US a month

A worker in the top 10 per cent receives $7,445 US a month on average globally, while a worker in the bottom 10 gets the equivalent of $22.

"The majority of the global workforce endures strikingly low pay and for many having a job does not mean having enough to live on," said Roger Gomis, an economist in the ILO statistics department.

Compare that to the average Canadian wage of $51,000 in 2017, with a low-income cutoff of $14,200.

The problem has become worse worldwide because of the declining share of income (share of GDP) earned by workers, compared to what went to capital. For workers, it fell from 53.7 per cent in 2004 to 51.4 per cent in 2017, while the share of capital income has increased from 46.3 per cent to 48.6 per cent, a trend only temporarily interrupted by the financial crisis.

Canada is a bit more equal on this measure as well, with 61 per cent of income going to workers in 2017, according to the ILO.

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