The Wellesley Institute improves health through research to aid policy development, meaning we focus on the social factors which can either promote health or make you sick. As part of that work, we have calculated how much a person needs to live a healthy life in the GTA and what facets of a job are key to your health.
Like many in Ontario, we have watched the negotiations between the Government and education workers with concern. We also recognize that we may be entering a period of multiple employee-employer contract disputes. Our research offers an evidence-based context which can help all of us reflect on what is really important to individuals, families, society, and our prosperity—a healthy workforce.
In 2017, we found that the amount needed for a single person aged 25-40 to Thrive in the Greater Toronto Area—that is, to live a healthy life—was between $46,186 and $55,432 after tax. In a follow-up report in 2021, we calculated that a GTA family of two parents and two kids needs between $103,032 and $136,428.
These amounts have not been updated for inflation, which has been 16% since 2017 and an average of over 6% this year. The figures also do not take into account the current cost of living crisis or the health costs linked to the anxiety and significant physical health risk front-line workers continue to live with through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The workers in this labour dispute are not well-paid. The mean salary of these education workers is well below the amount needed to live a healthy life. This gap will be somewhat mitigated by their benefits package but is still too low for our current economic situation.
This is not due to the actions of the current government alone. Education workers have not earned a healthy wage for many years. However, with the affordability crisis piled atop the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Ontario may want to consider carefully the broader context of its responsibility for ensuring that those who take care of our children every day, including some of our most vulnerable children, have what they need to be healthy.
Using the Thriving income would help identify an evidence-based threshold for a healthy wage in negotiations and our Thriving at Work study lays out eight areas in which workplaces should be improved for good health.
We would like to specifically note that we understand that, at least at one point in these negotiations, the government proposed a “waiting period” before short-term disability is available to these workers, which would make it more difficult for workers to stay home when they are sick. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and other respiratory viruses we believe this is a threat to the health of these workers, the public’s health, and to the good operation of our schools. Our New Normal series and Thriving at Work study demonstrate the importance of access to adequate, fully paid, and easily accessible sick days.
Additionally, the use of the Charter of Rights and Freedom’s s.33 “notwithstanding clause” to impose a contract and deny workers their constitutional right to strike was also a threat to health according to our studies, and the government was right to repeal its legislation. Our Thriving at Work report explained that access to a participatory and fair work culture is important for workers to be healthy at work. The evidence is that the right to choose to deny one’s labour is part of this. Healthy workplaces promote participation in organizational decision-making and have a fair process for resolving conflicts, which this removes.
We believe that a focus on health and ensuring that the workers vital to the good functioning of our public school system are paid a thriving wage and treated well is the best way forward. Further, the pandemic has also inflicted significant damage on everyone in the caring sectors of society and human resources challenges are mounting rapidly. All of this argues overwhelmingly for an approach that focuses on health and evidence.
To ensure these workers can work safely and effectively to help our children both parties should do all they can to reach an agreement that advances health and well-being. Making workers’ health and ability to Thrive a top priority is something we should all be able to agree on.