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Tough jobs, tough times

Ever work a minimum wage job? Most of us have, I suspect.I certainly remember getting about $8 a day spinning cotton candy and pouring soft drinks…

Ever work a minimum wage job? Most of us have, I suspect.

I certainly remember getting about $8 a day spinning cotton candy and pouring soft drinks from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at a snack stand in a city zoo one summer back in the 1960s.

On that wage I couldn’t meet my fairly modest financial needs so I hawked popcorn on commission at an outdoor theatre six nights a week to try to fill the gap. On my spare night, I clerked at a card and novelty shop.

I got by.

Those first jobs provided experience and certainly an incentive to get an education. However a surprising number of our fellow citizens find themselves trapped in a low-pay rut.

According to a March, 2004, Statistics Canada study of the nearly one-third of Canadian workers, or about 1.7 million of our fellow citizens who held a low-paying job in 1996, fewer than one-half of them “had managed to climb out of it by 2001.”

“The 53 per cent of workers (around 900,000) who remained trapped in low-paid work in 2001, tended to be older women and those who had only high school education or less,” said the study Low-paid Employment and Moving Up by the National Anti-Poverty Organization.

“Such individuals were more likely to be working part time for small, non-unionized organizations,” the study continues.

“There are 1.4 million Canadians working full-time jobs who make less than $20,000 a year.

“Youth, women, visible minorities and recent immigrants are more likely to work for wages at or near the minimum wage.

“Today, if you work for minimum wage in Canada, you are likely living in poverty or at risk of living in poverty.”

The intention of a government-set minimum wage has been clear since New Zealand enacted the first minimum wage law in 1894: “To ensure individuals would not experience poverty when employed.”

“Over the last 15-20 years, minimum wages have failed to keep pace with rising costs of housing, food, clothing, transportation, utilities etc., causing a devaluing of the purchasing power of minimum wage earnings,” says the National Anti-Poverty Organization.

Securing a unionized job and getting an education offer two tried and true ways of getting ahead.

Supporting NAPO’s A Living Wage campaign ( might just help also.

We also have to remember that the struggle for a living wage is a global one.

The minimum monthly wage in Bangladesh for a skilled industrial worker in a “free-trade zone” has been set at around 3,400 taka a month or about $700 a year.

In Bolivia, the government posts 436 bolivianos as the minimum monthly wage, or a yearly sum just slightly above that of the Bangladeshi worker.

Labour Day provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the long, tough struggle to improve the lot of working people and particularly the contributions made by organized labour to those efforts.

Certainly tough times are ahead globally, but this Labour Day take some time to celebrate just how far we’ve come.

The line will form early for the free hamburgers and hot dogs with all the fixings at the annual Labour Day Picnic in the Park Monday, September 4  from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Rotary Peace Park in Whitehorse.

Sponsored by Local Y010 of the Yukon Employees’ Union and the Public Service Alliance of Canada this tradition sees local union and anti-poverty volunteers serving the hundreds of Yukoners and visitors that come out to enjoy the food and music.

The unemployed are particularly welcome.

I hear that they will have corn on the cob too.

Happy Labour Day!