'Minimum wage is a poverty wage': Rally calls for hike to $15/hour in Manitoba

The Manitoba Federation of Labour says it's time to raise minimum wage in Manitoba.

Rally held during International Basic Income Week

Dozens met on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature to rally for an increase to the province's minimum wage on Tuesday. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The Manitoba Federation of Labour says it's time to raise minimum wage in Manitoba.

"The labour movement believes people who work full-time shouldn't have to live in poverty. That should be a premise we all agree on, yet minimum wage is a poverty wage," said Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba labour group.

"It doesn't allow people to meet their basic needs. It leaves them below the low-income cut-off."

Rebeck and dozens of others rallied at the Manitoba Legislature on Tuesday afternoon to call for an increase in the province's minimum wage to $15 an hour, a $4-per-hour hike from the current minimum wage of $11 per hour.

Rebeck said the province needs to follow in the footsteps of others like Ontario, which has proposed legislation to boost minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2019, and Alberta, which has promised to do the same by October of next year.

British Columbia's NDP govenrment has also said it has plans to get to $15 per hour by 2021, and raised minimum wage by 50 cents this year to $11.35.

"They've all made a firm plan to get to $15 an hour because they know that that'll let people participate fully in society," Rebeck said.

"It'll relieve government from providing a lot of the services that they have to subsidize low-income workers with, and it's the right thing to do. We shouldn't allow poverty wages to be paid, and there should be a plan to get to sustainable jobs."

Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck said a minimum wage of $15 per hour would allow people working full-time to stay out of poverty. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

$15 wage possible by 2024: Kinew

Newly elected ​NDP Leader Wab Kinew attended the rally and told reporters afterward that if elected, the party would bring minimum wage to $15 per hour by the end of its first mandate in 2024.

"I think the province can take a balanced approach, get us to minimum wage, and then also provide a little assistance to those locally owned small businesses that need help to pay their employees a living wage," Kinew said.

In his speech at the top of the Legislature's steps, Kinew also brought up old charges of domestic abuse and assault that have marred his leadership win, saying he's "committed to answering questions and addressing concerns that any of you have, and will continue to show up for those conversations."

Newly elected NDP leader Wab Kinew said the party would bring minimum wage in the province to $15 per hour by the end of its first mandate, if elected. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Basic income experiments in Ontario

The rally was held during International Basic Income Week, a week of action for the concept of basic income that started in Europe in 2008 and has spread worldwide.

Jim Mulvale, the dean of social work at the University of Manitoba, is on the steering committee for Basic Income Manitoba. He said a basic minimum income would fight poverty and increase equality in Canadian society.

"We think basic income is a bold new idea whose time has come, and I think in fact there's increasing interest in the idea around the country and in many other countries as well," Mulvale said.

Mulvale pointed to initiatives in Ontario as recent examples of interest in the system in Canada. The province's government is launching three pilot projects to test out models of basic income in Hamilton, Lindsay and Thunder Bay.

He said the experiments are modelled on Manitoba's "mincome" project in the 1970s, which tested out basic income, most notably in Dauphin.

But he said other, better-known aspects of social support in Canada are examples of steps toward basic income.

"We've had in place for many decades now our old-age security guaranteed income supplement program and I think it's a reasonable approximation of basic income for seniors, and it actually has put a big dent in poverty among seniors," he said.

"Even for families with children, that Canada Child Tax Benefit is a form of basic income that really is a support for young families."