Healing Gaia

Put Food in the Budget and a Living Wage on the Table

As precarious low-wage part-time and contract positions become a way of life for Canadians, more of us will experience food insecurity.

By Doreen Nicoll
Published August 05, 2015

Last Thursday, members of Voices for Change Halton held an information picket in front of No Frills in beautiful downtown Burlington, Ontario. Passersby were given material from the Put Food in the Budget Campaign.

This led to some wonderful discussions around the need to raise social assistance rates, increase minimum wage, create more affordable housing, and increase corporate taxes. These are the basic ingredients needed to help end hunger and poverty.

Loblaws was chosen because 80 percent of Canadians shop at their grocery stores. Despite being very profitable, these stores are well known for paying employees low wages. Loblaws cashiers are paid as little as $11 an hour.

This means that even if they manage to work 35 hours per week for a full year - most employees are part-time - their annual income would be $20,020 before taxes. The poverty line in Ontario is $19,930 for a single adult and $28,185 for a lone parent with a child under six years of age.

Each month, 400,000 people access food banks in Ontario. Of these, 48,000 are working at low wage jobs. That means, 12 percent of the people using food banks in Ontario are working.

Federally, the poverty line ranges from $16,038 to $23,298 for a single person before taxes. The lower range is for rural communities while the higher range reflects communities with 500,000 inhabitants or more.

According to HungerCount2014, four million Canadians live in a state of food insecurity. This means they are living without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. That's 10 percent of Canada's population.

Food bank use across the country has increased 25 percent since 2008. Each month, 841,191 Canadians use a food bank, and 33 percent are children and youth.

Each person, or family, can access a particular food bank once a month. On average, they'll receive enough food to provide nine percent of their monthly food needs. Most is canned and prepackaged with questionable nutritional value.

Loblaws, along with other large corporations like Walmart, Campbell's, McCain's, Arby's, and Hershey Canada, promote a charitable model encouraging consumers to buy more of their products to donate to food banks.

At the checkout, Loblaws customers are asked to donate $2 to Galen Weston Jr.'s charity for children. Many of these children live in poverty because their parents earn minimum wage.

What is equally disturbing is a sign attached to debit machines effectively stating that if the cashier doesn't ask customers for a $2 donation to the PC Children's Charity, the customer can report the cashier at Customer Service and receive a free bag of PC Decadent chocolate chip cookies.

As precarious part-time and contract positions become a way of life for Canadians, more of us will experience food insecurity.

This federal election is the perfect time to ask candidates their stance on: food security as a human right; a living wage; guaranteed basic income; national housing policy; universal child care policy; and raising corporate taxes to maintain and expand the social safety nets that all Canadians deserve.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

11 Comments

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By Kris (registered) | Posted August 05, 2015 at 12:46:35

I am so confused. I can't even figure out want your topic is, let alone discern an argument. You start by referencing the "Put Food in the Budget" campaign, without explaining what that is about. Then you suggest the protest was about labour laws, not food. Then some statistics about food bank usage. Then something about Lowblaws charities in support of children, which isn't about labour laws or food banks.But it IS "disturbing", for reasons left unstated. Then something about free cookies. Do free cookies, in their own small way, provide some food security to Loblaws customers? I'm not sure, because you never say what food security means.

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By highasageorgiapine (registered) | Posted August 05, 2015 at 14:05:10

the rising rates of food insecurity in this country is staggering, and given our vast wealth it should not be happening. excellent summary of this highly troubling trend, i sincerely hope that this becomes a discussion amongst party leaders in this federal election.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted August 06, 2015 at 00:02:56

Loblaws cashiers are paid as little as $11 an hour.

Sigh... For Loblaws, the truth is easily found out.

Why? Because Loblaws is a union shop. Its wages are governed by the Collective Agreement (CA) between the union and the employer. A new CA or union contract just took effect on July 9, 2015. Less than a month ago.

Among other things, the Loblaws CA provides for a Defined Benefit pension plan for the workers. It is very, very rare for private sector workers to have a Defined Benefit pension plan.

So nobody can accuse me of repeating management spin, I'll provide a link to and a quotation from the website of The United Food and Commercial Workers Union report about the latest union contract between Loblaws and its 12,000 union workers in Ontario. I'll quote three of their bullet points about part time workers, since PT workers tend to be the lowest paid.

part-time in the wage progression and with over 300 hours worked will see immediate increases of $.05 up to $1.00 per hour; for those who do not get at least a $0.25 cent hourly increase by going on the new progression will receive an additional $100 in addition to the $350 lump sum;

all part-time at the end rate are guaranteed a minimum gap above the minimum wage if for example minimum wage goes to $15/hour.

all part-time workers including those with the least hours worked, will receive $350 as an immediate bonus.

Currently, the minimum wage in Ontario is $11 per hour. Which means that it is mathematically impossible, per their union contract, for any Loblaws worker to be "paid as little as $11.00 an hour."

Even if a worker has worked less than 300 hours and did not get the 25 cent increase then they would get the $450 bonus. $11 is the minimum wage in Ontario. As soon as the company starts paying bonuses to everyone, then everyone is automatically above that. And $450 over 300 hours gives an hourly rate of at least $12.50. And notice how everyone over 300 hours has their base pay automatically above minimum wage with at least a $350 bonus on top of that.

And as for "precarious part-time and contract positions," these are union jobs. Nobody can be fired except for cause and that is very, very difficult in a union shop unless the worker is doing Very Bad Things.

Finally, as for reporting the cashier being "disturbing," no union arbitrator in the entire world is going to uphold any discipline based upon the worker not asking a customer for a donation.

Loblaws is providing 12,000 union jobs for the people of Ontario. Not too many companies can make that claim.

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By walter_hbd (registered) | Posted August 06, 2015 at 19:32:47 in reply to Comment 113290

Great point Kevin!

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By Dicker (anonymous) | Posted August 06, 2015 at 09:19:01 in reply to Comment 113290

Article is right. You people are being dicks. Just because Loblaws is employs many unionized employees doesn't mean it shouldn't or can't be criticized. They can always do better.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted August 06, 2015 at 10:56:46 in reply to Comment 113300

The article made a specific claim about Loblaws employee compensation that can be mathematically demonstrated to be false. If you believe that I have made an error in my arithmetic, please be so kind as to point it out.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted August 06, 2015 at 18:51:41 in reply to Comment 113302

And I found yet another false claim in the article.

This means that even if they manage to work 35 hours per week for a full year - most employees are part-time - their annual income would be $20,020 before taxes.

Anyone who works 35 hours per week for a full year will be over the 300 hour threshold. It is therefore mathematically impossible for their income to be as low as $20,020.

There are legitimate concerns, which I fully share, about increasing inequality of income and wealth in Canada and around the world. Retail industries are major offenders in terms of exploited and abused workers. But Loblaws is one of the better employers because it is a union shop. Making statements about Loblaws compensation that can be easily proven false is not a good way to go about looking at the very serious issue of increasing inequality of income and wealth in Canada.

Among other things, this inequality of income and wealth, combined with increasing family-hostile and child-hostile corporate and government policies, is a major contributor to Canada's declining birthrate.

I know many young couples where this is absolutely playing itself out in their lives. Call me a fiscal liberal (because I am one!) but I do not believe that a birthrate that has declined to the point of national suicide is good public policy.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2015-08-06 18:57:20

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By Blitzer (anonymous) | Posted August 06, 2015 at 19:15:04 in reply to Comment 113317

I'm happy to donate my sperm if anyone will take it and run with it...

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By Junta (anonymous) | Posted August 07, 2015 at 11:35:13 in reply to Comment 113318

Better than wasting them on the palm of your hands, wanker ;)

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted August 06, 2015 at 21:33:05 in reply to Comment 113318

In Hamilton, I suggest that you apply to Can-Am Cryoservices. Their address is 102-1057 Main Street West, Hamilton.

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By We Need GLI (anonymous) | Posted August 18, 2015 at 14:27:19

Important topics. So instead some set out to disprove and others set out to derail with idiotic irrelevant comments.

What I think people should look at is guaranteed livable income.
The research is done and it was even implemented for a bit in Manitoba as a test before a new party was elected and killed it.

GLI would provide a guaranteed minimum income to all Canadians that is at a livable amount. You won't get rich but you will be able to live. This would give people enough for food and shelter and other necessities without the stigma or heavy oversight that current systems have that do not provide enough to survive on let alone live.

People working who made less than the minimum would get the balance given to make it up.

It was shown that this did not shrink the number of workers except among mothers who stayed home with the kids and students who actually did better in school.

It give people dignity, choice and much of the money would return back into the community in which they live as they would have funds to shop and participate in the local economy.

Currently the Greens are the only ones with a version of this on their platform though the NDP and Liberals have made mention of it.

We could reduce so much in emergency care if only we gave people enough to stand on their own. It can give others whose income is precarious, more stability.

It would also help certain field such as art where artists can actually live and produce their work instead of scrambling to make do until their art is sold. Seasonal workers would have an income all year long without weeks of waiting and paperwork etc. to get unemployment.

It works better than a living wage for small businesses because their workers would be looked after without breaking their small margins to pay a livable wage. That's not to say employers should not pay a living wage but that this helps more than one sector and could be the solution for small businesses too.

It can be done all it needs is political will.

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