Some hon. Members:
Subtopic: PROVISION OP MINIMUM RATE OF WAGES FOR EMPLOYEES
Let us hear about that.
We are going to bring in this bill. It will be brought in under the aegis of the Conservative government after proper thought and consideration has been given to it. It will probably be broader and wider and go farther towards meeting the wishes of the labour people. There will not be just one little piece of legislation that will be brought down.
Mr. Knowles (Winnipeg North Centre):
What portfolio does the hon. member hold since he seems to speak for the government?
I do not hold anything and I have never aspired to hold anything.
You probably will not be here when the vote is taken.
I will be here, don't worry. I should like to remind hon. members of the old fashioned labour days under Samuel Gompers whose goal was to attain a roof over the head of every worker and three square meals for every worker 365 days of the year. He was the old fashioned type of labour leader. He did not pin his faith on any one political party. The former A.F. of L. labour union to which I belonged always adhered to that. They always maintained that they would support the party that looked after their interests. If the labour people of this country follow the concept of Samuel Gompers they will go far, and keep going in the right direction. There are certain things I should like to mention with regard to that.
Mr. Gauthier (Porineuf):
You still have ten minutes to go.
Minimum wages are set out in a memorandum I have and nowhere in the country does the minimum wage exceed 75 cents an hour. In Newfoundland it is 50 cents for men and 35 cents for women. In Nova Scotia it is on a weekly basis and the figures are $16.80 a week in the larger centres and $14.80 in the smaller centres. In New Brunswick the rate is 50 cents an hour for women working mostly in specialized trades. So far as Quebec is concerned, on Montreal island the rate is 60 cents for Quebec city and other municipalities it is 55 cents and for the rest of the province 50 cents. If you go through them all you will see that the situation is the same. This is a little more important than appears on the surface. If a minimum wage of $1 an hour is adopted it will be some time before it can be enforced because the provinces will have to make adjustments. If I had my way I would make the amount a little higher.
Mr. Knowles (Winnipeg North Centre):
Tell us what the minimum wage rate is in Ontario?
I will give it to you. It is no higher than the rest; it runs from 75 cents to 80 cents. It covers a wider ambit. It is the same as in Alberta and British Columbia, where the going rate for mechanics or tradesmen is around $1.50 per hour and up. Probably the minimum wage in none of the provinces exceeds that of British Columbia which is 80 cents per hour. I am not trying to set up one province against another or say that one is any better than the other. However, we are going to need something more than the mere passage of this bill and putting it into force.
Before resuming my seat, there are many other things in connection with this subject that I should like to bring to the attention of the house and which were not mentioned in the labour brief. Probably they do not have very much to do with the government, but they are things upon which I have had strong feelings for some considerable time. I feel there has to be a re-alignment or adjustment in the ranks of labour itself. It is all very well to pass legislation of this type and to attempt to regulate business, but I think the time has come when in this country we are going to have to enact labour legislation of our own, set up our own courts, lawyers and judges that will handle this situation in Canada for Canada. There should be no dictation from outside, either by management or by labour. We should set our own rules, make our own decisions and labour as well as management will have to conform to them.
This is not a one-sided affair or we would not be experiencing the situation we have with regard to the seamen down on the St. Lawrence. I think the member for Winnipeg North Centre knows exactly what I mean. When you find gentlemen amongst the ranks of the upper brass of labour who should not be in the country and have no right in this country if the laws of the land were enforced, then I say labour itself has got to conform to certain rules and regulations. This must be done if labour is to have an organization, as we would want it to be, above reproach. Therefore, these things will have to come into being.
Personally, I would work to obtain all the things mentioned in the memorandum here, plus all the things I have mentioned. We do not want any repetition of the episodes that are taking place south of the border which are bringing labour into disrepute. Labour does not deserve this because the people who are bringing disgrace upon the movement form a very small fraction of the movement. Such episodes could occur in this country unless we wake up and establish laws in this country that will regulate labour for the benefit of Canadians. The sooner that is done the better it will be for the Dominion of Canada.
Mr. J. W. Kucherepa (High Park):
Mr. Speaker, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to be able to make a few observations on this important subject of minimum wages for employees. There is no question but that there exists a hiatus in our labour legislation as long as no provision is made for a minimum wage in Canada. What surprises me, indeed, is the fact that in years gone
by such legislation was not enacted. It is hard to conceive, having in mind the highly industrialized development of Canada and the long and noble history of labour unions, that legislation covering such an important subject has been overlooked. Perhaps there are difficulties in the drafting of this kind of legislation which would be satisfactory to all parts of Canada.
I can foresee variable factors, such as differences in the cost of living as manifested by such items as the cost of rent, the cost of food, influencing what would be a suitable minimum wage standard in the different parts of Canada. Again, the nature of the occupation would have to be taken into consideration in establishing a suitable minimum wage. Some occupations are undoubtedly more hazardous, some are more arduous, some are more demanding of skills than others, while still others require special contributions which may not be common to all situations. These factors certainly increase the difficulty in arriving at a figure which would be both fair and adequate to meet the needs of the working man in all parts of the country.
Again, the setting up of what might appear to be a moderate and fair sum may within a very short period of time be viewed as an almost niggardly amount, especially if the buying power of the dollar continues the path it has followed during the past 20 years or so. I can well remember, Mr. Speaker, that after graduating from high school and following a special course in commerce I was able to obtain employment at the handsome sum of $12 per week, with a $2 deduction for five lunches which were served me during the week. This took place not so long ago; in fact, it was in the late thirties. It would be better, sir, in establishing such legislation to take into account the cost of living index. By tying this cost of living index to the minimum wage, we would thus ensure labour its rightful reward for services rendered. The $1 per hour rate outlined in the bill which is before us may be adequate for some parts of the country, but I am sure that in the high cost of living sections of this country this provision is totally inadequate.
Provincial legislation in some of the provinces may be more efficacious than the proposed bill. However, I do not think that this nullifies the necessity for such legislation, nor does it detract from the principle contained in this bill. What is desirable, however, Mr. Speaker, is, as I have outlined, a provision which would assist the greatest possible number of people throughout the entire land. Under present circumstances the
minimum wage earned in many sections of the country has to be greater than that proposed by virtue of the higher cost of those essentials to life which people must provide for themselves. In the light of these circumstances the present proposal looks rather small and inadequate.
Looking at the problem in a general way, it appears that the only real solution to this problem is to take into account the cost of living and tie the minimum wage per hour to this figure. Otherwise we are failing to meet the problem face to face. I know in the area from which I come an amount such as $40 per week, based on a 40-hour week at $1 per hour, would be totally inadequate for any person to say nothing of those who are the breadwinners. This legislation would serve some useful purpose only if wages were to come down, but no purpose whatever when wages are rising. The important thing to keep in mind is, what will this dollar buy? If the basic commodities are priced high, then the standard of $1 per hour would be entirely futile. Certainly in the light of our observations during the last two decades, the dollar is buying less and less all the time.
There is still another aspect of the $1 per hour minimum wage proposal which I feel is worthy of mention, and that is the consideration of including a clause to that effect in all government contracts.
We who are believers in this principle of a minimum wage per hour should also give deep and thoughtful consideration to whether the contracts let out by the federal government contain assurance that the spirit of this minimum wage principle is incorporated within those contracts. It should be a matter of concern to us that fair wages are being paid on government works. Then it would be a matter for government officials to make certain that not only is the minimum wage per hour being paid but also, in keeping with this principle, that the minimum wage per hour be consistent with a fair wage for a particular region of the country, in keeping with the standards of living and the cost of living in a given area.
The hon. member for Danforth (Mr. Small) has pointed out that in the city of Toronto, of whose local government I also happen to be a member, we have a fair wage clause considered in all the contracts that we let. In other words, our fair wage officer investigates the person who sends in a tender on a given contract in order to find out whether he pays what we consider to be a fair wage in our area. I think such a principle might well be considered to apply to any part or to any region of Canada.
Does a minimum wage per hour as outlined in the bill before us satisfy the requirements of such a fair wage? If we answer that question, then we must come to the conclusion that a minimum wage per hour must be such that it will be guaranteed by some means which would take into account the variables to which I have already referred.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I must say that the principle of a minimum wage is a sound one and one with which I heartily agree along with other hon. members of this house. I am concerned, however, whether we are protecting the best interests of the working man when we set an arbitrary figure which does not guarantee against any depreciation of the buying power of our dollar. There is also the problem of applying such a standard to an area where the cost of living is so high as to nullify the good motivation which is contained in the legislation which we have before us. In so far as the minimum rate of $1 per hour is concerned, these are some of the problems which require a solution in order to bring about in this field sound legislation which would assure the working people of this country a decent minimum rate of wages.
Mr. Arnold Peters (Timiskaming):
Mr. Speaker, I have come to the conclusion that we have in the house tonight a great party, the Progressive Conservative party, that great friend of labour. But let us tell our labour friends that they are great only in that we have heard some very silly remarks put on Hansard not for the purpose of supporting this great labour movement which they profess to support but in order to talk out a very minimum bill; and may I say that when we ask for $1 as a minimum wage, we are certainly asking for the very minimum.
It is better than you have ever been able to do.
If the Conservative party feel that they have people employed to whom this act will apply, that it is going to cost a few dollars somewhere, they certainly should hide their heads in shame. If they assert that they are Progressive Conservatives, I would say that tonight there are no progressives but rather a great number of conservatives. Let us take a look at the rate of $1 an hour for a wage in this atomic age. We heard today from a gentleman who represented a mining community. I refer to the riding of Churchill. He went on to say that the miners in that area had worked for so much money so many years ago and pointed out what a great debt they owed to the mining industry. I worked in the mining 96698-105
industry, I am sure as long as has anyone in this house and I certainly owe nothing to that mining industry because everything that I received out of it I worked extremely hard for. I might suggest that when I started to work in the mines in 1940 the rate of pay was $4.64 a day; the rate was 58 cents an hour. We did not accomplish more than that rate because of a Progressive Conservative government giving a minimum wage law of $1 an hour.
We also heard the farmers speak of labour and how this minimum wage law would affect the farmer. I do not know whether this has something to do with immigration policy or what the situation is, but I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that farmers are going to go bankrupt if they sit around waiting to hire men for $65 a month. I live on a farm. We pay our hired men three times that amount. Even the Ontario compensation board will allow another $45 for his room and board; and I may say that in calculating wages the compensation board is not very generous. I can assure the hon. gentleman of that fact. If labour on a farm receives the rate of $150 a month which is not an unusual amount to pay on a farm for labour -and I suggest that that labour should also work for a reasonable length of time-he will be getting $1,800 a year. Then if you add another $540, he will receive more money than would be paid under this minimum wage if the man is working a 40-hour week. He will be receiving $340 more than this minimum wage and I do not think that that man is overpaid but I think the other is underpaid.
We have also heard some labour people- and I suggest that labour would not recognize them-speak in support of that valiant party that the old A.F. of L. supported. Frankly, it is my opinion that they never supported any political party and that is one of the problems that we face today. If they support a party, then that is probably what is being asked for tonight.
This act, I would suggest, will be something for the people of Canada. It is not going to cost the government any money because I am sure that representatives of all parties in this house would not be satisfied to see any of the workers under their jurisdiction receiving a dollar an hour or less. I am sure that they would all be in agreement that the payment of any employee under their jurisdiction should be far greater than that. But we find in Canada people who are still working for less and they continually look towards the provincial minimum wage laws as an "out"; and the provincial labour departments continually look towards federal labour jurisdiction for an act on which they can pattern
their own provincial acts. I suggest that the Progressive Conservatives remember that word "progressive" and, instead of trying to talk this bill out, give it their support in the only way in which that support can be given, namely with a vote, and that they allow the vote to be taken immediately.
Mr. W. H. Jorgenson (Provencher):
Mr. Speaker, I should like to take just a few moments in which to deal with this bill inasmuch as it affects the people in my constituency. If we were to listen to the hon. member for Selkirk (Mr. Bryce) perhaps I should not get up and talk here at all, because he stated that lawyers should not be talking on farm bills. If that is true, I have no right to talk on a labour bill. But this bill does affect the people I represent, and therefore I should like to make a few comments on it.
I am sure the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Knowles) is quite sincere in his desire to help the people he represents, and I am equally sure that his colleagues, particularly the hon. member for Assiniboia (Mr. Argue), who has been a very able spokesman in this house for the farmers, is equally sincere.
But there are some difficulties, as I see the situation. I fear this bill is going to create an imbalance between industry and agriculture. There are real problems which exist in agriculture today. The price of the things we have to buy is increasing, while the price of the goods we have to sell is falling. This is a real problem and the disparity has been growing apace in the past few years. I would not suggest for a moment that wage increases are the only course of price increases. Indeed in these days of automation and organization wage increases in industry represent a very small portion of those price increases. But to the small businessman in towns in rural areas this presents a problem.
I should like to give the house just one example. I know of a businessman in my local town who wanted to hire extra help for the fall months. I think most hon. members will know that the margin of profit in most of these small businesses is very small. This individual managed to secure the services of an old age pensioner who was very happy to supplement his meagre pension, and they agreed on a salary, but the businessman was later informed that he was violating the minimum wage law of the province. Consequently he had a choice of increasing his wage or of letting the man go. He chose the latter course.
Now this was a disadvantage for both, and I am sure that this bill is not going to help
the situation. In the result, the old age pensioner lost his opportunity to supplement his income, and the businessman could not provide the type of service that he wished to provide for his customers who were mainly farmers, without increasing the cost of what he had to sell. He could, of course, have complied with the regulations, but that would have meant increasing the cost to the farmers.
This appears to be the confused philosophy of the C.C.F. group-playing both ends against the middle; giving a great deal of lip service to the needs of the common man, yet advocating policies which would prevent him from making decisions which are rightfully his. I do not deny to organized labour the opportunity or the right of collective bargaining, or the right to achieve for themselves the highest standard of living possible, but I do believe that we should not assume the responsibility for arbitrarily determining what wages should be.
I, for one, would be interested to hear what the farmer members of the C.C.F. party will say about this bill. I note they have been strangely silent up to now. I feel that the passing of this legislation will be another stage in increasing the disparity between conditions in industry and on the farm.
Mr. Knowles (Winnipeg North Centre):
Would the hon. member permit a question?
I am through.
Mr. Knowles (Winnipeg North Centre):
What would be his attitude to this kind of a minimum wage bill if his own government brought it in?
My attitude, as far as I am concerned, would be that it would have an adverse effect on agriculture.