By Michael Asiffo
For everyone who thought the fight for minimum wage to be raised to fifteen dollars an hour was pointless, turns out it was not. Premier Wynne has gone along with the plan to have minimum wage increased by 2019. What does this mean for Torontonians?
The answer depends on which side of the fence you are on. One of the most prominent opinions out there right now is from the supporters of basic income.
The concept of basic income is a complicated idea but at its simplest, basic income gives people a guaranteed amount of money to help elevate financial stress.
Rob Rainer is the Chair of the Provisional Steering Committee, the Ontario Basic Income Network and Advocate for the Basic Income Canada Network. In the following Interview conducted by VIBE TALKS Contributor Michael Asiffo, Rainer shares his thoughts on how Basic Income and the Minimum Wage increase can co-exist.
Michael Asiffo: Will the Minimum wage increase be incremental or will just happen by in 2019?
Rob Rainer: Currently the Minimum Wage is $11.40 an hour. As of October 1 2017, it will go up to $11.60 and as of January 1 2018, it will go up to $14.00 an hour. Then on January 1 2019, the Minimum Wage will go up to $15.00 an hour.
Michael Asiffo: Why do you think Premier Wynne is doing the Wage increase now?
Rob Rainer: I think the Premier and her government are very aware of the statistics and the stories around the labour problems in Ontario. The number and the percentage of people who are in what is called “precarious labour situations” or are unemployed, has steadily gotten worse over the last decade or two. Meaning that there are fewer full time, secure, well-paying jobs being created and lots of part time positions, often low paying without benefits and no security. So many advocates for a higher minimum wage have been making a case for a principle that if you are working in the labour market, you should be able to make enough from your labour to meet all of your basic needs.
Michael Asiffo: Can you explain the concept of basic income?
Rob Rainer: So, basic income is essentially income that would be provided by the government which would flow to many, if not all, people of a society depending on how it is structured. Basically, if your income from other sources is low enough, you would receive additional income through the tax system to ensure you have a level income that again could meet your basic needs. There are different models for this. Some people propose that everyone in a society, rich and poor alike, should receive the basic income and others are more of the view that the basic income should largely be directed to those most in need of receiving it at any point in time through the income tax system. There is debate within the basic income community as to which of those models is the proper one but the essential concept is that people would be given a guarantee that they will have enough income to meet their basic needs. That is the optimum situation.
Michael Asiffo: Both the minimum wage increase (to $15 an hour) and basic income are both meant to alleviate financial stress on the working and middle class. Is that correct?
Rob Rainer: Absolutely. There is a sense of outrage, I would say, in many parts of Canada and so many people are struggling. I certainly see the stories during my daily work routine. These revolve around basic income and the immense struggle and desperation around earning it. There are literally millions of people in Canada in this situation. So, both minimum wage and basic income proposals largely have to do with alleviating economic insecurity and in my view, they both have a role to play.
"After all, an increase in minimum wage only really applies to people who are seeking to be in the labour market."
There are lots of people who are not in the labour market or can only participate in it very sporadically. Basic income is very much needed for those folks but it also applies to people currently in the labour market where you have tremendous changes, for example through automation. So even in the labour market, some years down the road, we may very well need a basic income because the jobs many hold now will simply not exist.
Michael Asiffo: So that means both minimum wage income and basic income can co-exist?
Rob Rainer: Yes, I strongly believe that. I think if you are in the labour market, you should have the assurance of having a fair living wage for every hour you work. Optimally, not a minimum wage but a fair living wage. To their credit there are some employers who set out to establish a living wage standard for their business and such employers should be applauded. We need more such employers in our society, but, definitely both policies can and should co-exist.
"Not a minimum wage but a fair living wage."
Michael Asiffo: How do you think the minimum wage increase will affect basic income?
Rob Rainer: Everything depends on the design of the program and the design in turn depends on the goals that are set out for the program, including the values that underpins all of this. I believe that with basic income in place and everyone knowing that they will have that as a baseline foundation of security – it will increase the labour flexibility, as well as the bargaining power of people seeking to work in the labour market. Therefore, employers will have to continue to look at what they can do to provide the most attractive working conditions, including wages. So, I think basic income helps to strengthen the bargaining power of workers. Also, if a person is not in the labour market for whatever reason, and there can be a whole host of reasons, you have got that assurance of basic income. This is in opposition to employers looking to see what they can do to undercut those workers and continue the exploitation of people.
Michael Asiffo: Where can people go for more information on basic income?
Rob Rainer: The best resource in itself is Basic Income Canada Network. There are also resources on the minimum wage concept with basic income as well.