The Minimum Wage

A minimum wage is essentially a basic labor standard that sets the lowest hourly, daily, or monthly salary rate that an employee legally receives. Historically, the implementation of this criterion was first executed in New Zealand in 1894 and in the Australian state of Victoria in 1896. In 1912, the state of Massachusetts later instituted this minimum wage policy as well. However, it only applied to both women and minors working in distinctive businesses; these ‘proletariats’ comprised the majority of the working class people who were not administered in a union: “relying solely on public opinion to pressure employers into compliance” (2013, July 28).

In 1918, British Columbia and Manitoba were the first provinces in Canada to establish the minimum wage statute. These inaugurated laws appertained exclusively to female workers because they were considered to be “unorganized and, hence, more vulnerable to exploitation” (). Moreover, the majority of North American unions guaranteed that men received a sufficient salary through collective bargaining – “negotiation of wages and other conditions of employment by an organized body of employees.” Nevertheless, in 1925, the province of British Columbia was the first to launch a regulation concerning the minimum wage of male workers; they adopted the Men’s Minimum Wage Act. During this period, there was an emphasis on the standard or expectation that men were the breadwinners and women were the caregivers: “rates for men were initially set higher than for women” (2013, July 28). Although by 1974, gender-based minimum wages gradually disappeared.

According to Bowal and Franssen, both researchers claim that the cost of living in Canada, even with minimum wages “do not comprise a sturdy living wage for the long term” (Bowal & Franssen, 2012). Through the empirical knowledge of significant others, what these two researchers assert seem factual and/or valid. Moreover, Bowal and Franssen indicate how calibrating the minimum wage in the market too high could potentially result in a decrease of jobs; the government is focused on maintaining a balance between living wages and job opportunities. Today, the principles of a minimum wage assists in protecting non-unionized workers in unskilled jobs and influences the level of compensation of other employees as well.

In Don Watkins’ article “To Protect The Defenseless, We Must Abolish The Minimum Wage,” he shares his subjective opinions and experiences in regard to the how the distribution of means (income) has been substantially unfair. First, he introduces and shares an abstract scenario where the government is concerned about individuals like Watkins and how his gain [money] does not match or outweigh his loss [laptop]: “I’d rather have two hundred bucks than nothing.” This analogy pertains and emphasizes on the enforcement of the minimum wage. Coincidentally, Watkins has a similar outlook to both Bowal and Franssen in that the minimum wage “doesn’t ensure everyone can earn a living.” Evidently, he questions how the system is regulated and doesn’t accept why there are rules that govern how much a person such as one who is skilled, is likely to start off with the minimum: “But it’s not voluntary! You needed the money…” (Brook & Watkins, 2013). In addition, Watkins is convinced that the majority of people acquire work for the sole purpose of improving their resumes; many individuals are trying to climb the ladder. Lastly, Watkins shares his perspective on how an employer should be privileged and/or have the authorization to distinguish the amount a worker should earn – basing on the individuals skills set and experience.

There are three differing schools of thought that have their own interpretations of labour law: Unitarianism, Liberal Pluralism, and Marixm. In correlation to Don Watkins’ article, the school of thought that best fits and/or exemplifies his thoughts and viewpoints would inherently be the Unitarianism Perspective. It is perceptible in Tuckers’ report that in the unitarianism perspective, there are protective legislations including the minimum wage-laws that operate through judicial decision-making. Watkins describes how employers should have the privilege and/or authorization to make recommendations in regard to how much an individual should actually make. The union he believes should not have full control of what a person makes. He affirms that the remuneration should best reflect the skill set and experience of the employee. These statements express the same ideologies of an unitarianism perspective: “It has deprived both workers and employers of freedom of choice and undermined Canada’s economic performance…” (Comack, 2006).

The liberal pluralist approach is a school of thought that contrasts with the unitarian view in association with labor laws. In this particular system, it depicts the labour market by an “imbalance of power between the individual worker and the employer” (Comack, 2006). This perspective opposes the Unitarianism thought because both the employer and employee have the ability to devise an agreement that would benefit and stabilize commercial relations. Whereas in the unitarian ideology, both the workers and employers are concerned with “maximizing their individual liberty and gaining from wealth generated by capitalism” (Comack, 2006). As a counter argument/response to Watkins’ article, liberal pluralists would reply by stating how they can see inequalities without standards such as the minimum wage: “…being responsive to an array of competing interest groups and not the servant of any single body” (Comack, 2006).

In relation to Watkins’ remarks in regards to the minimum wage, in my opinion, the minimum wage standard provides a safeguard to workers and opportunity for everyone. It protects non-unionized workers in unskilled jobs by providing them with a minimum – without the implementation of this act employers could potentially exploit their employees. Those who are uneducated/undereducated or unskilled, the minimum age provides them with a window of opportunity; gives them a sufficient enough of money. Although, we should also bear in mind that because there are so many positions being filled, it prevents jobs for those who are skilled and those who are trying to climb the ladder or better their resume: “…forced the movie theater to pay a wage higher than what my ability justified, it wouldn’t have magically made me more productive – it would have made me unemployable” Overall, Watkins provides convincing remarks that demonstrate why the minimum wage isn’t appropriate but there are also pros concerning this regulation that make it suitable for the economy.

Sources:

Bowal, PeterFranssen, Chris. “Minimum Wages In Canada.” Lawnow 36.3 (2012): 58-60. Canadian Reference Centre. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.

Comack, E. (2006). Locating law: race/class/gender/sexuality connections(2nd Ed.). Halifax, NS: Fernwood Pub.

Minimum Wage Database Introduction. Web. 28 July 2013. <http://srv116.services.gc.ca/dimt-wid/sm-mw/intro.aspx?lang=eng&gt;

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Minimum Wage

  1. This is a great post. You provide a thorough unpacking of the concept of a minimum wage, and a detailed analysis of the article by Watkins. Good work.
    You note that Watkins argues that “remuneration should best reflect the skill set and experience of the employee”. This, from his perspective, argues against the enforcement of a mandatory minimum wage, as people should be able to earn whatever they are worth – and no more.

    In a recent Fortune article [http://finance.fortune.cnn.com/2013/11/12/wal-mart-pay-raise/?], Stephen Gandel notes that the 2012 pay of Wal-Mart CEO Mike Due was $23.2 million. This is, according to the salary information site Payscale, 1,034 times the pay of Wal-Mart’s average working during that term.

    I wonder – do you think that Waktkins would argue that the gap between the pay of Mike Due and the pay of his average employee reflects the difference between their relative skill sets and experience levels? Do you think that he would express concern about the disproportionately high pay of the CEO, or does his insistence on remuneration in accordance with skill set only apply to proletarian workers?

    In your conclusion, you note that the minimum wage guarantees workers a sufficient income. I’m not sure that the evidence supports this statement. Perhaps if the minimum wage were indexed to cost-of-living, this would be the case. At present, though, a person can work 40 hrs. / week for minimum wage and still be one paycheck away from financial (and personal) ruin.

  2. I think Watkins would agree that the gap between the pay of Mike Due and the pay of his average employee reflects the differences between their skill sets and experiences. In his article he states that in order for you to make more money, your going to have to gain that experience from working in a minimum wage job until you reach that certain skill set in order for you to climb up the ladder.

    I don’t think Watkins would express any concern of how much the CEO is making. He would probably say that the CEO deserves that salary as he has climbed up the ladder to a position that pays higher than lower level positions; that he has earned that income.