Skilled Trades

While we’re on the subject of seamstresses and what they get paid, let me just reflect some more on a subject that really gets my dander up.

I’ve spent the past two years working as a seamstress in various manufacturing settings. It’s easy work (for me – I’ve been sewing professionally for over ten years), and my employers pay me a wage that is on the good side of average. There are, however, many manufacturing companies that pay a much lower wage for sewing. Some even go as low as minimum wage (currently $10.25/hr in Ontario).

Minimum wage is supposed to be for positions that can be filled by any unskilled person who undergoes a training period (usually 2-3 weeks).

Realize, dear reader, that sewing is considered a skilled trade. A skilled trade is generally defined as a hands-on position that requires skill, and often uses specific equipment (definitions here, here, and here). And with sewing in a manufacturing setting, you have to know how to operate an industrial straight stitch sewing machine, at the very least. Many manufacturing companies require a seamstress who can operate a number of industrial machines, including sergers, coverstitch, blindstitch, walking foot, and zigzag stitch machines.

So why the minimum wage nonsense?

The cynic in me suggests that sewing pays a low wage because it’s a female dominated field. That if it were male dominated, then it would pay a better average wage.

But then you have professional cooks in the same boat. They often get paid minimum wage, or slightly above, yet they are usually required to have professional experience in order to qualify for a position in most restaurants. And that’s pretty much a male-dominated field.

I remember back when minimum wage was around $7/hr, it was a lot easier to find cooking positions that paid well above minimum wage. The average wage for cooks was around $10-11/hr back then. But as Ontario’s minimum wage grew, the cooking wages stayed the same. And now restaurants are still paying $11/hr for a position that requires professional experience and skill.

You hear that cooks? You should be getting paid $14-15/hr for your work.

And seamstresses? For basic manufacturing, you should be starting off at $14-15/hr as well.

So what does a skilled tradesperson do to get paid an appropriate wage?


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