Labour leading fight against poverty

March 10, 2011

Labour activists were urged to keep leading the fight against poverty by a B.C. labour leader.
Irene Lanzinger, secretary-treasurer of the B.C. Federation of Labour, told North Okanagan Labour Council delegates Wednesday in Kelowna the labour movement has led the push for a minimum-wage increase and, now, for a living wage -- key components in the battle against poverty.
Expectations are the minimum wage will be raised soon and B.C.'s $6-an-hour training wage will be eliminated, said Lanzinger, a Kelowna-born and raised teacher who once headed the B.C. Teachers' Federation.
"And it will be thanks to us in the labour movement who kept the pressure up," she said, even though those who will benefit from a higher minimum wage are generally not union members.
The next poverty battlefront will be over something called a Living Wage. That's the wage deemed needed to support a family of four. In the Vancouver area, a living wage is set at $18.70 an hour. Both parents would need to earn that just to cover the bare-bones expenses for a family of four. In Greater Victoria, the living wage is $17.31.
Unions are coming on board as living-wage employers, Lanzinger said. The BCTF and Hospital Employees Union are among those who have committed to paying their employees at least living wages.
Lanzinger said unions must continue urge the government to take steps to fight poverty. Many other provinces have more aggressive anti-poverty policies than B.C., she said, citing Newfoundland and Labrador, in particular.
Lanzinger also encouraged unions to keep active politically and to keep informing their members about political issues.
Responding to complaints often voiced about her union, the BCTF, being too political, she said: "There is no such thing as being too political."
Political issues, including poverty and minimum wage, are too important to ignore. Unions have a right and a responsibility to speak out, she said.


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