A Long-Fought Victory for Workers Achieved With $15 Minimum Wage in Ontario

On January 1, 2022, minimum wage across Ontario increased to $15 per hour — a victory won as a result of over a decade of tireless work led by workers, community organizers, and policy advocates.

The Workers’ Action Centre — a worker-based organization in Toronto committed to improving the lives and working conditions of people in low-wage and unstable employment — has been at the heart of this work, steering a movement led by workers for workers.

The Metcalf Foundation, the Atkinson Foundation, and Maytree, are long-term funders of the Workers’ Action Centre (WAC) and the Ontario Employment, Education & Research Centre (OEERC), supporting their efforts to achieve decent work for all.

WAC has done amazing work over this period, building the alliances and capacity necessary to advocate for decent work, while demonstrating what real organizing for change looks like over the long-term. The organizing that WAC has driven in Ontario — led by immigrant and racialized workers in neighbourhoods across the Greater Toronto Area — has not only shaped the agenda in Ontario, but the national conversation.

WAC’s campaigns throughout the years, like the Fight for $15 & Fairness, have been based in conversations with workers across the province about what they need to survive and what they are willing to fight for. Working with the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change has ensured migrant workers have been informed and part of this work. WAC’s success has also been supported by various community allies — including health care providers through the Decent Work and Health Network and business owners through the Better Way Alliance — all working together to strengthen the movement for workers’ rights and to increase pressure on government to act.

The Ontario Liberal government first committed to a $15 per hour minimum wage along with other enhanced workers’ rights in 2017 through Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act. The increase was to come into effect on January 1, 2019. However, following the provincial election in 2018, the Ontario Conservative government cancelled the planned increase.

Despite the disappointment and dismay, WAC continued its organizing and advocacy efforts to raise the minimum wage. This ongoing pressure led the current government to finally bring the $15 per hour minimum wage back into legislation.

COVID-19 has put a spotlight on low wages, poor working conditions, and the importance of paid sick days — particularly in sectors deemed essential — and has reinforced the priorities in WAC’s new Justice for Workers campaign. A recent NOW Magazine feature shared the first-hand experiences of workers and why enhanced benefits and protections are needed.

While the minimum wage increase does indeed mark a significant milestone and victory for workers, it comes three years later than initially promised and in the midst of a pandemic that has brought into sharp relief how urgently measures are needed to protect all workers.