Politics Magazine

Fast Food Workers in Canada

Posted on the 28 December 2012 by Thepoliticalidealist @JackDarrant

Strikes and actions to unionize fast food workers in NYC made headlines this week (it would have been this week. sorry for the late post. i’m still getting over the desire to perfect/just finish!/it’s already holiday havoc hump). though, it’s been a while coming as Atlantic‘s Sarah Jaffe discusses how loud and how long.

Fast Food Forward is campaigning to raise wages from current rates of $7.25/hour to a living wage of $15/hour.

What does that mean in Canada? Surely in the land of universal healthcare and higher minimum wages we don’t need to worry about the employees serving our double-doubles and upsized meals… or do we?

Of course we should. You knew that.

Minimum Wages across Canada do Not Afford Living Wages

Take for example, Ontario, that has the highest among Canada’s provincial minimum wages, set currently at $10.25 (which is less for tipped servers and those under 18 years old). No matter which basic healthcare provisions are subtracted from the balance, (and there are increasingly less), this amount still doesn’t qualify as a “living wage.” Also axe the idea of a full-time hours at a single gig. Slashes to full-time positions –  along with the costs of labour and benefits tied to them – are being replaced with greater part-time and seasonal staff. With two or three jobs, you might still qualify for social housing. Oh, don’t worry, the wait lists for social housingonly went up by 2.9% in 2011. If you join right now*, you might just slide in around the 157, 000 mark.

Paying to be an Employee

Yes, you read right. In addition to the costs of living, there’s also the rarely mentioned expenses made to-get-paid. As in up-front and sometimes recurring costs paid by staff in order to be staff, e.g. uniforms, shoes, and lockers. I once worked at a store that required we pay to store our valuables in lockers halfway across the massive mall. In order to get a snack during unpaid breaks, an employee would have to pay again to access a snack brought from home or cash to somehow procure one and shove it down his/her throat while sprinting back… hopefully without any change from the purchase, since nothing “valuable” was allowed on the sales floor. The frequent change in uniform styles at another job put a serious dent in my earnings, and a handful of my teenage co-workers would quit each time mandatory uniform purchases rolled around. There’s more money going to the employer when outside food and beverages are not allowed on the premises, but incidentally there’s a “convenient” meal-plan automatically deducted from your wages before you see them… whether or not you consume the company’s food or drink during your shift.

In the case of food & beverage establishments in Toronto, it is required by law to have at least one person on premises with a food handlers certificate and photo identification. Some restaurants require everyone in the back of the house (BOH) to have the certificate, as a pre-requisite to hiring, though I’ve never had anyone ask to see mine. The certificate amounts to $35 (exam only) or $80 (classroom lessons plus exam). Let me know if you are interested in lower cost options for food handlers certificates that are available in some communities through Toronto Public Health.

I have found that employers seem to be a bit more lenient with the pre-requirement of a SmartServe certificate, which is required to serve alcohol. My training and test were paid for by an employer when I turned 18, and could legally sell alcohol in Ontario. A few of my co-workers at other food & beverage gigs also gained their SmartServe certificates at the owners’ expense.

Running tally of money paid in order to work to be paid: transportation, locker, uniform, shoes, food handlers / SmartServe certificate,… Leave a comment below to add to the list of what else might be included.

There’s more to the lack of living wage and the costs associated with these jobs to remain below the poverty line. I realize I haven’t connected the issues quite yet, but hopefully I’ve presented enough information to demonstrate that while Canada is arguably better with our universal healthcare and higher minimum wages, the fast food industry is not without labour issues.

I just copy and pasted the total text into a word document. It was 4 pages!! I’m cropping here and will try to write more to the point as I go along. Topics to touch upon include fast food employment and immobility, migration, racialization, and “fancy” fast food. Comments nudging forth one of these or another topic will be encouraging 


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