Today, more than six million Canadians — 40 per cent of Canada’s workers — toil in low-paying routine service jobs, preparing and serving our food, waiting on us in stores and retail shops, doing office work, and providing a wide range of personal and
These service workers take home a median wage of just $17 an hour, roughly 30
With the decline of once family supporting manufacturing jobs, the growing gap between this low paid class of service workers and the more than six million well-paid knowledge and professional workers stand at the heart of Canada’s rising inequality and the decline of its once sturdy middle class.
As the median price of a home surging to more than $1 million in expensive metros like Toronto and Vancouver, service workers cannot even come close to affording a home and a leading middle-class lifestyle.
Most of the talk and the effort for overcoming inequality and rebuilding the middle class ignores Canada’s large and growing class of service workers. It turns instead on either bolstering manufacturing work or educating Canadians for professional jobs. Both of these are admirable goals. But, even if we do all of this, millions of Canada’s workers would remain trapped in low-wage service jobs.
The only way to close Canada’s yawning economic divide and rebuild the middle class is to upgrade the wages and working conditions of Canada’s service workers.
Increasing the minimum wage, as Ontario is doing, is an important first step. And, it is important to link the minimum wage to the steep variation in the cost of living across cities: $15 an hour buys a lot less in expensive cities like Toronto and Vancouver than
The real key is to upgrade the millions of low-wage service jobs that workers across Canada toil in. We fail as a society if 40
It has been done before. During the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Canada and other advanced nations turned low wage manufacturing work into middle-class family supporting work. Henry Ford famously initiated his $5 a day pay policy to enable blue collar workers to purchase the cars they were making on the assembly line.
The government created new labour laws that enabled workers to form unions and bargain collectively enabling blue-collar wages to rise higher. Manufacturing companies developed strategies to involve more high-paid blue-collar workers in efforts to improve quality, productivity and ultimately profits, creating a win-win cycle. The same can be done for low-wage service work, the analog of blue-collar factory work today.
We owe it to our millions of service workers to afford them the kinds of jobs and wages that will enable them to buy a home, live a middle-class life, and achieve the Canadian Dream. The time is now for a broad collective effort to improve and upgrade the service class work in which millions of Canadians toil.
Published by Thestar