Mr. Theogene Ricard (Sf. Hyacinihe-Bagoi):
Mr. Speaker, representing as I do a constituency which is partly made up of working men, I could hardly do otherwise than support every measure which tends to improve the lot of these people. That is why I wish to go on record as favouring the resolution introduced by the member for Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Knowles).
The main object of the bill is to provide for a basic minimum wage of $1.00 per hour for every employee coming under federal labour jurisdiction, whatever his age or ability, as long as he remains in the service of his employer, that is the government.
This bill would also authorize the governor in council to establish a higher hourly rate for part-time employees, that is for all those who work at least 32 hours a week.
This legislation is not conceived along the lines of provincial regulations regarding salaries. It constitutes a new approach to the matter and is designed to establish a minimum wage on the national level, since as yet no Canadian legislation applies in this field.
In all the provinces, minimum wage legislation (every province except Prince Edward Island has such legislation on its books) merely provides for bureaux where the rate of wages is determined after consultation with the employers and labour organizations concerned. It is generally provided that this wage must be approved by the lieutenant governor in council.
The minimum basic rates established in this way vary considerably among the various provinces and within particular provinces. The highest rates, with the exception of certain rates established for particular industries, is $30.00 a week for men in the urban centres of Alberta, and for both men and women in Saskatchewan. On the basis of a forty-hour week, this rate yields an average hourly wage of 75 cents, and on the basis of a forty-four hour week, an average of 68 cents.
It will therefore be seen that the rate proposed by bill No. 4 goes much farther than the minimum wage rates generally applied in the provinces at this time.
No province has struck a minimum general rate for all its workers. A distinction is generally made, in the provinces, between more experienced workers as well as between communities of various sizes.
Generally speaking, certain exceptions are also made with regard to certain groups of employees such as those belonging to a particular age group or those classified as apprentices.
I am sure that hon. members would find it rewarding to study provincial legislation in this regard before expressing an opinion on the matter.
In principle, this bill appears to be more along the lines of American legislation whereby a minimum wage rate of $1.00 per hour is established for employees under federal jurisdiction. This legislation was originally enacted around 1930 and provided at the time a minimum of 25 cents per hour.
One question which arises immediately is that of determining what effect that proposal would have on wages now being paid to employees who would come under the act.
According to the estimate made by the economic and research division of the Department of Labour, probably no more than 5 per cent, or approximately 20,000 employees of industries subject to federal jurisdiction are now paid less than $1.00 an hour. These are mainly to be found in a limited number of occupations such as the telephone industry, radio, transportation, grain elevators and hotels. The occupations most directly affected would be junior office employees, a certain number of telephone operators and service employees such as cleaners, watchmen, etc.
In terms of costs for the industries involved, the whole thing does not seem to be overly expensive. If this proposal were implemented, it could very well have far reaching effects on the standards of wages in the provinces. It would certainly force the provinces to increase their basic rates.
How would this proposal affect the rates paid to more experienced employees? That remains to be seen and considered.
According to available information on surveys carried out in the United States, any minimum wage legislation generally tends, in the long run, to affect salaries paid to other employees, as well as to those who come under the established minimum. By that I mean that if the lower salary ranges were increased, the higher salary ranges would be increased also.
In establishments where there are a substantial number of workers who are at present under the prescribed minimum, a large proportion of these could expect salary increases over the few months following the implementation of this legislation, a fact which would upset the economic balance of the industries concerned.
The major provisions of this bill are along the lines of a recommendation contained in a brief presented to the government by the Canadian Labour Congress on October 21 last, with regard to the establishment of a minimum wage of $1.00 per hour through legislative action.
I believe that on that occasion the representatives of the congress were informed that the Minister of Labour (Mr. Starr) would give serious consideration to this recommendation. I think I can also say that the minister has already under consideration legislation along those lines which he will shortly bring before the house. It will be noted that the house has not been told how this basic rate of $1.00 per hour was arrived at. This matter will require more thorough consideration because of the substantial margin between that rate and the highest minimum rate provided by provincial legislation.
I think there is merit in the suggestion that this matter should be thoroughly discussed so that the house may obtain as many details as possible before coming to a decision.
While I am in favour of this bill, I would like everybody here to give the legislation serious study before arriving at any opinion in this regard.
Topic: INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS
Subtopic: PROVISION OF MINIMUM RATE OF WAGES FOR EMPLOYEES