Minimum wage goes up in 6 provinces, but some advocates say workers need more
Canadian workers earning minimum wage in several provinces are now seeing an increase in their paycheques.
Six provinces — Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador — hiked their minimum wage effective last Saturday.
The flurry of increases come as the cost of living soars, with Canada’s annual inflation rate reaching a nearly 40-year high in recent months.
The minimum wage is now $15.50 in Ontario, $13 in Saskatchewan, $13.50 in Manitoba, $13.60 in Nova Scotia, $13.75 in New Brunswick and $13.70 in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Several provinces have additional pay hikes scheduled over the coming months and years, many in a bid to raise minimum wages to $15 an hour — if they haven’t already reached that benchmark as is the case in Ontario, Alberta, B.C. and the three territories.
Manitoba plans to reach $15 by October 2023; Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador by April 1, 2024 and Saskatchewan by Oct. 1, 2024, according to the websites of each provincial government.
Labour advocates say the gains are long overdue.
But they say the long-championed goal of a $15 an hour across the country no longer goes far enough to address the affordability crisis.
“We’ve been calling for a $15 an hour minimum wage for so many years now it’s no longer enough,” said Bea Bruske, president of the Canadian Labour Congress.
“It really needs to be $20 an hour or more when we look at inflation and the cost of food and housing.”
Hailie Tattrie, an organizer with advocacy group Justice for Workers Nova Scotia, described the wage increase as “definitely needed” but echoed that it’s “not enough.”
“We see people struggling across the country,” she said. “A little bit of a wage bump is not going to help.”
Her organization used to be called the Fight for $15. But over the past year and a half the leadership realized that “$15 is just not enough anymore,” she said.
Meanwhile, business groups say the minimum wage hikes come at a tough time as they struggle to recover from pandemic shutdowns.
“Fewer than half of small businesses are back to normal levels of sales,” said Dan Kelly, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
“The average small firm has taken on $160,000 in COVID-related debt and their costs have been rising rapidly. Right now any increase in costs for business is really tough to handle.”
Businesses will likely respond to higher wages by raising prices or reducing operating hours, he said.
“We know that governments are under pressure to increase minimum wages … but they should be finding other ways to help ease the burden on the business community,” Kelly said. “We are urging governments to consider putting a freeze on [employment insurance] premiums.”
Ted Mallett, director of economic forecasting with the Conference Board of Canada, said minimum wage increases should be automatic to make them more predictable for workers and businesses.
Some advocates have suggested indexing minimum wages to inflation, but he said provinces should consider pegging adult minimum wages to 50 per cent of average incomes.
“Typically wages rise faster than inflation, that’s why living standards increase. So we suggest indexing [minimum wages] to average incomes instead of price increases … as it would increase earning power more over time.”