Tag Archives: wages

(313) Internal economics

tumblr_mf8ygfCJsj1qc0pgeo1_1280Internships have become a fixture of the economy.  Asking around about the value of working without pay in order to get some real world currency with employers is to solicit decidedly mixed responses.  Descriptors range from “worthless” to “depressing” and “annoying bullshit” to “it saved my life”.  Where is the truth we might wonder at a time when the employment prospects for youth seem as difficult as ever?  We are told with religious certainty that maximum education is required for success in the new workplace and being an intern is therefore to be embraced.  Young people often serve more than one and yet the internship, for many, is just another stretch on the road to nowhere, a feature of underemployment and poverty.

The downside of interning has struggled to emerge within the story of work and employment as it has come to be known since the 1980s.  The mythology of internship remains strong, in part, because there are success stories.  So, what of the time-wasting, depressing, free-lunch-for-business critique of interning?  Well, it’s becoming especially important now that legalistic arguments are being advanced that large-scale use of interns may actually be illegal, not just morally iffy, but contrary to reasonable expectations of the social conduct of business and government?

Canada appears to be catching up to the States and the UK where the negative take on interning is a much more evolved and visible story, and has been for a while.  The University of Toronto Student Union spoke up this week on behalf of some 300,000 unpaid interns across the country in nearly every kind of industry, taking a position that such internships are exploitve.  UTSU’s letter to Ontario’s Minister of Labour received a mediocre response from that office and seems to have been pushed out of the media by the Boston attacks.

Letter to Yasir Naqvi from UTSU regarding unpaid internships

Coincidentally, a social media/brand management firm in British Columbia called HootSuite has been so embarrassed, in the online world in particular, at the backlash against its use of unpaid interns it has stopped the practice and going forward will pay interns.  Clearly, their interns have been doing something of monetary value and their lawyers must have told them there is merit, and therefore risk to HootSuite, in the argument that interning is illegal.

Unpaid HootSuite interns get back pay itworldcanada.com

The book Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy by Ross Perlin made a project of understanding internships in the United States and is brutal reading.  Perlin allows for the potential value of interning, offers numerous solutions but finds too many things wrong with the phenomenon for it to remain the way it is.  He sets out the scale, meaning and implications of what has become a social norm.

These are not your father’s internships Ross Perlin 2012 NYT opinion piece

Ross Perlin speaking at Google headquarters 2011 
58:17

In the UK we find an ongoing legal case in which a 24-year-old museum volunteer, Caitt Reilly, receiving a job seeker’s benefit was required to work without wages at a retail chain called Poundland, British equivalent of a dollar store.  Ms. Reilly is part of a challenge to the legislation requiring unpaid commerical work for social welfare benefits mounted in the courts.  Her example has stirred a large amount of emotion and the government was compelled to amend a bill in parliament to prevent back pay being given to those in unpaid-work-for-benefit situations like Ms. Reilly’s.
For many observers her case speaks to the miserable nature of the current coalition government steering the UK towards austerity and seeming to lack any other idea beyond cutbacks to public programs and lower taxes for the wealthy.

Poundland ruling ‘blows big hole’ through government work schemes
guardian.co.uk – see video, other links & comments section

International Lessons: youth unemployment in the global context
53-page .pdf version of a January 2013 report from Lancaster University’s Work Foundation which finds the UK comparing poorly to, yes, you guessed it, Germany when it comes to moving young people from education to employment.

image: Wikimedia Commons

(311) Wal-Mart & the NY minimum wage

i love nyOccupy Albany sent a plastic shopping bag of fake money to the state legislature on Monday.  Why?  To demonstrate their concern that Wal-Mart lobbying will result in public money being transferred to the retailer as part of a compensation scheme for a recent increase in the minimum wage in New York.  As a huge global employer, buyer and seller of things cheap, and a general feature of suburban existence, Wal-Mart has always been hard to ignore.  This development has tremendous implications for their already wobbly public image.  Are they so deeply in thrall to the lowest wages possible that this massive business feels compelled to seek public money because such horrible damage will be done to them by a wage increase?  With all of their corporate clout and resources why can’t they come up with something other than a grudge about wages?  Some half a million dollars in political contributions is thought to have resulted in the quiet inclusion of the compensation arrangement in the legislative process.

The increase in the NY minimum wage will be $2.25 over three years bringing the rate to $9.00 per hour.  $2.25 divided by half a million dollars equals $222,222.22.  Now, we know that New York is a big state for Wal-Mart, with 114 stores there according to the corporate web site, but wouldn’t that money buy them quite a few hours of labour at a slightly better minimum wage?  Doesn’t the three years it takes to enact the increase give them some time to respond?  Is there some other trick besides resistance to modest raises available to management?  If this is the only mechanism available for running Wal-Mart aren’t they vulnerable to criticism and more innovative competition?

Are these naive question in the world of suburban poverty in North America in 2013?

Unions: Wal-Mart had role in NY minimum wage deal 
ap.org

(308) Royal what?

Royal_Bank_Building Toronto“That’s not what we’re doing.”

“What we are doing is perfectly legal.”

“We’re sorry.”

That’s pretty much how one of Canada’s largest, richest businesses responded to a burst of public outrage over what it thought would be a run-of-the-mill outsourcing of 45 Toronto-based IT employees to an Indian firm called iGate.  Could it be that Canadians are waking up to corporate power and abuse?

RBC can hardly cry poverty, they are a profitable bank capitalized at something like eighty billion dollars, so to get caught dismissing established employees to make use of a temporary worker program that allows for fifteen percent lower wages is a public relations disaster.  A turn that squanders a lot of the moral capital the bank shared with the rest of the sector for not having dumped Canadians into a sub-prime mortgage or bailout nightmare like their risk-worshipping British and American cousins came up with.

Also tough are the wider questions raised.  The list of major businesses lined up for the temporary worker program includes some of the most recognized names in the Canadian corporate caravan.  For example, Tim Hortons, the inescapable coffee shop so beloved of Canada’s working- and wish-they-were-working-class is on the list for the program.

The mass media has picked up the public’s indignation and the story seems to have legs, despite RBCs damage control effort via full-page print ads in major newspapers and online.  If all the cranky comments and Facebook flutter translates into closed accounts, loss of transaction fees and the like then this might be a learning moment for management and the board of the bank.  Certainly, Mr. Nixon, President and CEO of the bank, can’t have enjoyed the last week or so very much.  It isn’t in the selfish self interest of the bank to have a precarious, underpaid workforce and alienated customers.

Perhaps the public has learned something about the vulnerability of Canada’s massive and historically well-protected banks.  After two centuries of building profitable businesses in the second largest country in the world and emerging as global players the brand of Canada’s banking sector is perhaps more fragile than it realized.  The leverage of the public when it comes to modifiying the harmful behaviour of the banks has been glimpsed this week.  For the record, RBC puts its transaction fees up recently.

Labour groups have expressed doubt about the temporary worker program since it got going.  Unions are threatened in an economy based on flexible labour.  Additionally, word is not very good on the program from the workers inside it.  The whole deal says exploitation.  Conservative commentators like Andrew Coyne and Terence Corcoran are all over this controversy in their columns as an overblown emotional diversion which does a disservice to corporate Canada in its efforts to be its best possible self.  Such daring contrarians!

Corporate power and abuse like this, sanctioned by Ottawa, supports suburban poverty.  Adding insult to injury is the fact that the Greater Toronto Area, where the outsourcing was planned to take place, has a slightly higher rate of unemployment than the country at large, RBC is in the black and has paid out record bonuses in recent times.

Good work RBC!

Outsource Canada “I spent two days on this site!” matches the number of foreign workers in each province with the number of unemployed there.

Huffington Post Canada has added the RBC outsourcing fiasco to its ongoing coverage of middle class decline.
Temporary Insanity: RBC vs Canada’s middle class

RBC’s CEO Isn’t the Only Boss With an Obscene Salary

image: Siqbal via Wikimedia Commons

(296) Minimum wage: medicine wage [Report]

Both_Cabinet_Respirator_in_WWIIAbout this time last year the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario published a report called Advocating for Vibrant Communities.  The document acted in part as briefing notes for submission to the provincial government representing the wisdom of nurses when it comes to social conditions and health.  The nurses called for an increase to the minimum wage in 2011 because they see a direct relationship between bad health and social difficulty.  The report helps to demolish arguments about the alleged immediate negative effects of increases to the minimum wage.  When it comes to health and poverty we can pay now or pay later.  Really, who is going to stand up and argue this one with nurses?

Advocating for vibrant communities 52-page .pdf file

image: AJ Faithful/Australian War Memorial via Wikimedia Commons

(295) Ontario minimum wage

nothing 2 fear from fairnessWith a new premier installed as leader of a party that is making the electorate and  the opposition a little restive there might be opportunity for Ontarians to see an increase in minimum wage.  This item from left-of-centre magazine Rabble makes the case for the economic benefits of a raise to $11.75 per hour from the current minimum of $10.25 per hour.

Boost the minimum wage, boost the economy

A coalition of labour and anti-poverty groups are saying $14.00 per hour is more like a living wage.  With over half a million workers in Ontario trying to provide for themselves on the present minimum wage you could expect resisting any increase to be a vote loser for any premier.

Action now to raise Ontario’s minimum wage acorncanada.ca

Counter-arguments to minimum wage increases are typically about the damage done to small businesses, prices and competitiveness.  End-of-the-world stuff.

That makes the clear enunciation of arguments in favour of better wages in terms of economic benefit welcome and useful.  The minimum wage in Ontario was first introduced back in the 1970s.  When you adjust the current minimum wage for inflation and currency fluctuation you find it to be worth just over $2.00 per hour.  In other words, it’s the same as it was a middle-aged person’s lifetime ago.  What else is?  The price of clothing, gas, electricity, a haircut, a bus ticket, food, rent?  No, they have all risen.  If there is disinterest in the moral argument for living wages in certain quarters then perhaps the economic case needs to be made more often …and more forcefully.

This last link is to a piece in the New Yorker that reflects on the situation in the United States regarding minimum wage and includes a few really interesting links to external references.  President Obama thought enough of the issue to include it in his last state of the union address.  It isn’t like he has turned out to be an anti-business president.  American minimum wages are even lower than those in Canada.

The case for a higher minimum wage newyorker.com

Hopefully Kathleen Wynn, Ontario’s new premier is open to increasing her literacy in the minimum wage vs living wage debate and will support lifting up the level of survival of working people in her province.

See also: (288) Living wages

(288) Living wages

386PX-~1A direct approach to easing suburban poverty would seem to be found in wages.  If suburban poverty is about precarious employment in dispersed, lower wage jobs, thin transportation resources, weak access to social services, and lack of affordable and appropriate housing options then why wouldn’t wages be a good place to start?  In the UK a movement for living wages is edging into the national debate just as the country appears poised for brutal austerity and economic contraction which will be very difficult for the poor.  Certainly, the idea of living wages has been kicking around social policy circles in most developed countries for decades and perhaps the economic craziness of the last few years has brought it forward.

In Canada, we see British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University adopt living wages as a specific policy …and finding itself able to afford to do so.  It seems a sensible argument can be made that living wages are good for people and what is good for people is good for business.  The very idea of a minimum wage is simply obsolete.  Not only can few live on them but business interests and their lobbyists, at least in English-speaking countries, tend to take offence to notions of raising minimum wages.  It’s harder to argue against living wages, which are an expression of justice in an age where a job doesn’t protect you from being poor.

CBC’s The National visited Hamilton, ON in 2012 to look at what a transition from minimum to living wages might mean.  That clip, and other material, is available on the Living Wage Hamilton site.

Living wage will cost SFU less than 0.1 per cent of budget: report
The Tyee

Living Wage Foundation UK

Beyond the Bottom Line: Challenges and Opportunities of the Living Wage  
77-page .pdf file resolutionfoundation.org January 2013

image: Bundesarkiv via Wikimedia Commons

(267) Twenty twenty vision [Report]

Cheerful reading from Resolution Foundation, a British think tank, which produced a document last fall called Gaining from growth: the final report of the Commission on Living Standards.  Important employers, labour leaders, economists and parents’ groups were looked to for the major findings of the report.  Such a grounding in reality continues on from other publishing efforts from Resolution with a focus on the difficulties facing lower and middle income households.  The major single conclusion of late?  That by 2020 the wages of middle and low income households in the UK will be no better than they were in 2000.  My goodness, no wonder we sometimes end up using the f-word on this blog!

Resolution Foundation publications page

(86) Wages in Canada

This weekend in the mass media in Canada there will be tons of worthless human interest bullshit about those whacky, maxxed out Americans going nuts, getting pepper sprayed and trampled to death storming strip malls for Black Friday bargoons.  Getting less attention will be fresh Statistics Canada data showing the failure of wages in Canada to keep up with inflation.  Considering wages have been sliding in real terms in this country since the 1970s we have to ask who the idiots really are.  Happy Thanksgiving America!
Wages not keeping up with cost of living Halifax Chronicle Herald