Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Peace and Justice report shows how we can do better

What would you do if your hydro was disconnected when the temperature was -18C?
Think it doesn’t happen?
It did in our area, last week. Some of our power companies disconnect people all year round, with no regard for weather or even time of day.
You might ask why they are disconnected. Normally it is for non-payment of bills.
Why?
Because people simply do not have enough money to pay their bills.
They may have jobs. Perhaps they are disabled. But with hydro rates they way they are, it makes it really difficult.
The United Way of Bruce Grey’s Utility Assistance program has spent more than $70,000 since the beginning of the year helping people with their utility bills. It’s still not enough.
Something has to change.
That’s why the proposal from Peace and Justice Grey Bruce seeking a living wage in our community is the kind of initiative we need.
They presented first to Owen Sound City Council last week. Peace and Justice Grey Bruce suggests that a multi-faceted approach, saying that tax reform, improving universal access to education (both post secondary and early childhood),direct benefits to those who are struggling, and creative national and provincial strategies to build an innovation economy is the direction we need to move.
They go on to say that in a time of increasingly precarious work, governments need to take the lead to mandate a living wage for those whom they touch.
Municipal employees are already fairly paid. But the municipal governments can also require those with whom they have contracts to pay a living wage as a contract expectation.
A living wage in Grey Bruce is about $16.76 per hour and in Owen Sound, $14.77 per hour. The difference is largely because of transportation costs. This is well above the Ontario minimum wage.
In addition, there is a requirement to increase payments for ODSP and Ontario Works. This is not an option. People can not pay their bills. This is not because they are lazy or meet some kind of stereotype. They do not have enough money to live.
I have said before that January is a cruel month. The lineup and calls we have taken from people looking for help is beyond belief. In order to give people a support cheque before Christmas, the government paid ODSP, Ontario Works and seniors pensions early. Now people have to last an extra week on an already thin wallet.
It’s not right and it’s not fair.
To their credit, the Owen Sound city council has asked for a staff report on the impact of a living wage on the city and its contracts.
While there are those who say the city has no business imposing a higher wage on a contract and telling private business what they must pay their workers, we already have a precedent for that in our minimum wage laws. All the city is being asked to do is set the standard higher and fairer.
If we do not change our thinking now about how we understand wages, work and government support, we will continue to fund food banks, soup kitchens, band-aid housing programs and require ongoing utility supports.
That’s simply not right, just or fair.
I encourage you to read the report of Peace and Justice Grey Bruce on precarious work and a living wage. There is no need for people to have their hydro cut off when it’s -18C outside. None. We can do better for each other. This report shows us how.