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March 24, 2014

The road to Hell

We've all heard the news that the 85 richest people have as much money as the entire poorest half of the world.  This is part of the conversation in the US, where President Obama wants to raise the minimum hourly wage to $10.10.  There are the usual arguments from greedy Republicans that raising the minimum wage will lead to layoffs.  The Gap knows better, and has already committed to meet a $10 threshold because it's good for business.

In Nova Scotia, the minimum wage for experienced employees is $10.30.  So we're righteous.  Right?


Meanwhile in Ontario, the Human Rights Tribunal just awarded 10 years of back pay to a woman who made $1.25 an hour.


This woman, Ms. Garrie, has an "intellectual disability" and worked in a bottling plant, packaging wine.  You should read the decision to appreciate the arguments.  And a very informative broadcast.


The owner of the business sent a letter to the tribunal saying Garrie was a “trainee” and not an employee. As a trainee, she was paid an honorarium amounting to about $50 a week so she could continue to receive Ontario Disability Support Program payments without triggering claw-backs.

There are a ton of exceptions to the minimum wage requirement in Nova Scotia:
  • Camp counselors
  • Salespersons on commission
  • Agricultural workers
  • Trainees
  • Apprentices
  • and the mysterious "employees for whom there are special orders by the Governor in Council"
By way of comparison, this comes at a time that we learn the CEO of Emera earned $4.7 million last year.   That's $2,350 an hour.  228 times the statutory minumum wage.   1,880 times what Ms. Garrie made.  Mr. Huskilson makes more in 60 hours than her award for 10 years of back pay!

I would guess that if a woman in Ontario made $1.50 an hour, it's happened here in Nova Scotia.  It certainly happened in Iowa, as the New York Times reported last week.  That was all about agricultural workers, another exempted class in Nova Scotia.  

In the US, the National Council on Disabilities eloquently urged President Obama to extend his minimum wage order, saying that a subminimum wage
is a policy relic from the 1930s, when discrimination was inevitable because service systems were based on a charity model, rather than empowerment and self-determination, and when societal low expectations for people with disabilities colored policymaking. NCD stands for the principle that no person with a disability should be discriminated against in an employment setting by being paid less than the minimum wage available to all other citizens.
The letter is worth reading.

And in Ontario, the Human Rights Tribunal "urges the province’s human rights commission to determine if the practice of paying less than minimum wage is widespread, and if so, to advise the province on how to stop it."

In Canada, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan explicitly allow lower wages for people with disabilities.  In Nova Scotia, there are dozens of charities using the 'trainee' rubric.  It would be reassuring to know about their pay scales and the `trainee` positions.  How long do they typically last? Do trainees move into regular jobs?   


The 2013 report Choice, Equality and Good Lives in Inclusive Communities submitted to the Department of Community Services says: "the Services for People with Disabilities program currently funds thirty Adult Service Centres (ASCs). These service providers deliver a system of vocational services largely through segregated, sheltered day programs and represent the predominant response to the employment needs of people with disabilities".  

Whatever the arrangement, those people are better off in the workplace you say.  Some have high needs and the employer can provide supervision and other services.  That may be, but it shouldn't be necessary to bend the rules to help people.  Pay the minimum wage, account for supervision and services.  Show us the math. 

Those people.  Not someone like me, right?

I wrote to Easter Seals Nova Scotia on March 9 to inquire about their wage practices.  They operate a variety of businesses on the sheltered workshop model.  I have received no response as of the 23rd.  Is there a problem with asking?

No doubt sheltered workshops are operated with good intention.  The pavement of the road to Hell.  But that doesn't make it right, or even legal.  How can it possibly benefit anyone to be treated as second class citizens?  Confusion about whether individuals with differences are objects of pity or real people is exactly why Nova Scotia needs credible and enforceable legislation.


Our notoriously ineffective Human Rights Commission could conduct an investigation, as they are empowered to do.  Or the Disabled Persons Commission could see if people were being served by this "training" loophole.  Trust me, that won't happen.



Barbara Hall, chief commissioner for the Ontario Human Rights Commission, welcomed their ruling.  “The fact that we intervened in the first place shows we are really concerned about this issue and the seriousness with which the tribunal took it is very important,” she said.

So we call on sheltered workshops to publish and explain their wage scales and record of job placement.  Perhaps, to protect their reputation, they will insist on a Human Rights Commission ruling.


Gus Reed


PS Here`s something from Ohio.  It would be interesting to know how Nova Scotia compares:



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