Quebec's new $12 minimum wage not liveable wage for women trying to escape poverty

Minimum wage in Quebec goes up to $12 per hour today, but labour groups say it's not enough and will keep many female workers trapped in poverty.

Increase of 75¢ per hour not enough to support oneself, labour groups say

Gabrielle Bouchard, president of the Fédération des femmes du Québec, said minimum wage should at least be $15 per hour. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Minimum wage in Quebec goes up to $12 per hour today, but labour groups say it's not enough of an increase and will keep many female workers trapped in poverty.

The 75-cent increase will help 353,000 workers in the province, most of whom are women, according to Quebec's labour minister.

"We know that women are taking the brunt of this," the president of the Fédération des femmes du Québec, Gabrielle Bouchard, said of low wages.

"We have mostly women, of all ages, in a variety of jobs, who are at minimum wage and will stay at minimum wage for a very long time," she added.

She said there's a misconception around minimum wage — that it is a pay grade for young people who are starting out — but in reality, for many women, minimum wage jobs are the only ones they'll be offered.

She said the minimum wage is not a living wage, where people can actually pay all their bills and have time and energy left to participate in society.

She said a $15 per hour minimum wage would be more reasonable than $12.

The increase to $12 represents an annual increase of between $462 and $979 in disposable income for minimum wage workers, depending on the number of hours worked and their family situation, according to the province.

Struggling to afford food

According to Moisson Montreal, Montreal's largest food bank, even people with jobs are struggling to afford necessities like food.

The organization's Hunger Count survey for 2017 showed that the Montreal organizations it serves receive more than 650,000 requests for food per month.

Moisson Montreal's executive director, Richard Daneau, said he hopes that along with the 75-cent hourly increase, other actions are taken to support people on low wages.

"We believe the minimum wage's last increase is a step in a good direction, and we surely hope it will provide sufficient financial means for 'working poor' so that they retrieve [and] gain autonomy," he said in an email to CBC.

Bouchard said most food banks have clients who work full time but still can't afford groceries.

Some women with children find themselves effectively locked out of the workforce, she said, because they simply can't afford to work minimum wage jobs.

"It will cost them too much," she said, once expenses such as daycare and transportation are factored in.

Quebec lagging behind

Daniel Boyer, president of the FTQ, Quebec's largest labour federation, agrees that $15 is a more reasonable minimum wage.

Daniel Boyer, president of the FTQ, Quebec's largest union, wants the minimum wage increased to $15. (Radio-Canada)
He spoke at a May Day demonstration in Montreal last Saturday and said a bigger increase would help curb the province's labour shortage.

"If you want to attract labour, you cannot just offer $12 an hour and poor work conditions," he said.

Quebec is currently lagging behind other provinces in raising its minimum wage.

In Ontario, the hourly minimum wage is $14 and will be $15 in January. In Alberta, it's already $15.

According to 2016 data from Statistics Canada, women still make up 60 per cent of minimum wage workers in Canada. That's about 600,000 employees.

With files from The Canadian Press