I disagree with Jock Finlayson’s conclusions that when it comes to increasing the minimum wage, the timing couldn’t be worse.
The timing couldn’t be better. I say this because raising the minimum wage will protect human life and reduce poverty.
(Finlayson’s piece “Minister should look at financial carnage amid min. wage increase” ran in the June 4 issue of the Cloverdale Reporter.)
The minimum wage increased 75 cents to $14.60 per hour on June 1, an extra $6 for eight hours of work. These minimum wage employees are often working in restaurants and customer service where their interactions with the public make them more vulnerable to being exposed to COVID-19 than those in different industries. We need to trust these people to stay home when they feel ill to protect the rest of us.
Fighting poverty is part of protecting us collectively because minimum wage workers should not be forced to choose between working sick or being able to pay rent and eat. The increased minimum wage will help those workers protect themselves and others in the coming months.
The minimum wage historically has always been about protecting the vulnerable. According to our federal labour standards, the government has put minimum wage in place to protect non-unionized workers, reduce the number of low-paying jobs, alleviate poverty, create incentives to work and address inequality.
It is apparent the business community has organized and has advocates like Finlayson to protect their interests. Still, labour is discouraged from organizing to defend their wages because businesses can take away those coveted jobs.
Instead of mentioning that the minimum wage is in place to protect the vulnerable and reduce poverty, we have Finlayson reducing labour to a business expense. Talking about labour as a cost of production is problematic, because if working people are reduced to a business expense, what is a human life worth? I would argue that human life is precious and can’t just be looked at only in economic terms. This principle that human life is more than just a production expense is why we have a minimum wage in the first place.
Raising the minimum wage is not as bad as Finlayson makes it seem. Studies have shown that while raising the minimum wage may slightly increase unemployment; it also increases job stability. That means that it may be harder to find a job at first, but it is more likely to be a job you keep after you do. It also has a ripple effect of increasing other people’s wages, especially those close to minimum wage. If there is a time when we should protect the poorest and create more stable jobs, shouldn’t it be during a global health crisis?
Finlayson makes mention of the “calamity” and “carnage” the COVID-19 crisis has caused businesses. Perhaps we should remind ourselves why businesses closed in the first place—to protect human lives while we prepared and restructured our society during the pandemic. We chose to put the collective good before our individual needs as we listened to experts, voluntarily closed businesses, stayed home, and practiced social distancing.
As we look at the struggles of businesses, we must not forget the minimum wage workers and the working poor. The poor and the vulnerable need our help during a global pandemic when unemployment rates are rising and they have an increased chance of exposure to COVID-19.
Therefore, in the fight to protect human lives and decrease poverty, I politely disagree with Finlayson by saying that increasing the minimum wage could not have come at a better time.
Stephany Garber Black is a journalism student at the University of the Fraser Valley.