The Progressive Conservative government's decision to postpone the minimum wage increase planned is creating a rift in opinion between business owners and those who were banking on the upcoming raise.
New Brunswick's minimum wage was set to increase to $10 from $9.50 per hour on Sept. 1, but Labour Minister Martine Coulombe announced that hike is being shelved until April 1.
The reversal goes against Coulombe's commitment on May 6 that the wage increase would be implemented as well as Premier David Alward's earlier promises to live up to the recommendation of the province's poverty reduction working group that called for the minimum wage changes.
The Alward government's decision to backtrack on those previous promises spurred on a political debate, but it also created a split in opinion between minimum wage earners and their employers.
Dayne Dunn, who works in the retail industry at the Regent Mall in Fredericton, said he is upset about the decision because he is struggling to save for his education with the existing minimum wage.
"I'm actually kind of angry because we were all told minimum wages were going go up to $10 or $10.50 and now I'm finding out that it's not," Dunn said.
"I was kind of hoping it would go up so I can save a bit more money so I can go to college."
Those people working in New Brunswick's food industry may be hit twice by the Progressive Conservative government's decision to stall the minimum wage changes.
Not only will those workers not receive their promised pay increase, the province's labour minister said the government will use this time to study a two-tiered minimum wage strategy.
The final policy could mean a lower minimum wage for people who earn tips.
Kristin Thurlow, a waitress at a downtown Fredericton restaurant, said she's opposed to the idea of altering the minimum wage laws to differentiate between people who earn tips and those who do not have that opportunity.
"It's great to have the minimum wage go up so we're at par with the rest of the country. But it's really difficult when we go to a bank as it is, to get a mortgage or loan or anything because they don't take into consideration our tips," Thurlow said.
Wage policy threatened jobs
While many workers were upset by the provincial government's decision to backtrack on its minimum wage commitment, representatives from small business groups heralded the move as courageous.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business issued a report earlier this year saying New Brunswick could lose 7,000 jobs because of its minimum wage policy.
Restaurant owner Jason LeJeune said he's breathing a little easier now that he has some time to prepare for the next increase.
LeJeune said the minimum wage has been increased six times in the past three years. Those repeated increases, he said, forced him to cut back on one summertime position.
'It was very hard on business ... We have to help them.'— Labour Minister Martine Coulombe
"So if we cut our labour force by five per cent, which is one position, and then everyone else downtown did it, even in just downtown Fredericton, maybe 20 to 30 less positions hired this summer," LeJeune said.
The business community's message resonated with the Progressive Conservative government.
Coulombe said on Wednesday she heard from small business groups that they needed time to adjust to the change.
|Minimum wage rates across Canada|
She said another wage increase would be bad for business and, ultimately, bad for workers.
"You know the increase was 50 cents every six months. It was very hard on business and if we want that business continue to bring [jobs] in our province and help people to get out of poverty. We have to help them," Coulombe said in an interview.
New Brunswick's minimum wage stood at $8 per hour in April 2009 and was scheduled to hit $10 on Sept. 1. The labour minister said it will reach $10 per hour on April 1, 2012.
As a part of the poverty reduction working group, Alward committed to implement those recommendations, which included raising the minimum wage to the Atlantic average by Sept. 1, 2011.
New Brunswick's minimum wage of $9.50 per hour is ahead of Prince Edward Island's $9.30, but behind Nova Scotia's $9.65 and Newfoundland and Labrador's $10.
However, New Brunswick will have the lowest minimum wage in Atlantic Canada on Oct. 1 when Prince Edward Island boosts its rate to $9.60. P.E.I. will again hike its minimum wage to $10 on April 1, 2012.
Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the Yukon all have lower minimum wages than New Brunswick.
British Columbia is also poised for a series of minimum wage increases. The western province will see its minimum wage rate bumped up to $9.50 on Oct. 1 and $10.25 on May 1, 2012.
The New Brunswick government has opened up the minimum wage change to public consultation for the next 30 days.
It is also required by the Employment Standards Act to consult the Minimum Wage Board before it can change its wage policy.