Charlie Teljeur: A step in the right direction
|By Charlie Teljeur - Contributing Writer | June 1, 2017
As expected, the news that Ontario was raising its minimum wage was greeted with decidedly mixed reactions, most of them as predictable as you would think. Business owners bemoaned the heightened costs of doing business and various social groups praised it as something that had finally come to fruition. To cut to the chase – if you’re curious at least – I sympathize with the former but agree wholeheartedly with the latter. It’s a basic good news reality that low paying jobs will soon be a little less low paying.
Make no mistake about it. Almost all low paying jobs are in the service industry and there are a heck of a lot of them here in Haliburton County, so it’s only natural that we’re very polarized by this issue. To lament the news is simply very short-term thinking. I understand that the current business model is not built to withstand the wage increase that has been proposed but, truth be told, that business model has never worked nor was it meant to.
The service industry has always had low-end workers at the bottom of the totem pole and the pinch point of the equation is simply because no one could fight it. Those taking the low-end jobs either lacked ambition or more so, lacked opportunity. Why do you think most times people who earn minimum wage are either students or people on fixed incomes? It’s the same “business model” that allows you to buy a $5 T-shirt from Wal Mart. Someone’s getting the short end of the stick, only now that person doesn’t live in China. She lives beside you.
I always found the service industry rationalization – particularly that of the hospitality industry – to be truly baffling. On the one hand, the people you’re paying minimum wage to are the front line of your business, yet on the other hand, you expect them to be your best ambassadors. While income shouldn’t be the only factor for friendliness, it does become a huge issue if the person in that position sees no incentive or future at such a low wage. You can only put on so many smiles before you begin to fake it.
And before you argue that old “if you don’t like it, get another job” argument, ask yourself what would happen if most of the people actually heeded your advice? Good luck getting any type of service the next time you’re out to dinner. Whether you want to admit it or not, the trickle-down effect eventually trickles down, which is exactly why there is currently such a shortage of service workers. There’s very little juice left in the orange.
So what’s to be done? First of all accept and welcome the changes. Better wages make for a more even playing field. The service industry depends on service workers so it’s in a business’ interest to keep them happy.
Secondly, try extrapolating what fairer wages means for the employment pool. If low wages keeps them away then the inverse must be true. Better wages mean better (and more) workers wanting these jobs. Waitresses wouldn’t be so hard to find because people could look at waitressing as a viable career alternative and not just a transitional or dead end job.
Service jobs would gain the dignity and respect they deserve. If “someone has to do it” as you hear so often, why can’t people be paid a living wage for doing a job that all business owners seemingly agree is important?
Charlie Teljeur is a contributing writer for The Highlander.