Manitoba

Music venue sings praises of $16 living wage as provincial committee at odds over new minimum rate

A popular entertainment venue in Winnipeg isn't waiting on the provincial government to increase the minimum wage. 

Good Will Social Club says $16 minimum wage good for employees, business, city at large

The Good Will Social Club co-owner Donavan Robinson said he hopes other businesses will follow suit in offering their employees a living wage of $16 an hour or higher. (Ian Froese/CBC)

A popular entertainment venue in Winnipeg isn't waiting on the provincial government to increase the minimum wage. 

The Good Will Social Club has elevated its starting wage from around $12 to $16 — higher than almost everywhere in Manitoba's hospitality industry.

"We're not trying to say we're better than anyone else in making this decision. We know it's a tough decision for everybody," co-owner Donavan Robinson said.

"But I think if everybody starts following suit, everyone's gonna have a little bit more money to spend at other businesses and it'll just snowball from there."

A few months ago, the owners of the bar, restaurant and live music venue reached the decision. Too many people are suffering financially, burdened by the soaring inflation rate and the pandemic, and the Good Will wanted to do its part.

"We feel that if we can start making that change, hopefully other businesses will follow," Robinson said.

Avoiding dubious title of lowest minimum wage

Some businesses will wait on the provincial government to make a move.

In June, the province passed a bill that gave it the authority to boost the minimum wage above an already-legislated formula tying the minimum wage to inflation.

That formula was set to boost the rate by an extra 40 cents an hour, to $12.25, by Oct. 1, but that pay bump would still have left Manitoba with the title of the lowest minimum wage-earners in the country.

Premier Heather Stefanson said the province was falling behind and it wasn't acceptable. 

The Tory government asked the labour management review committee to recommend a new, higher minimum wage, but the group, comprised of both labour and business representatives, couldn't reach an agreement. 

The group representing business wanted a wage in the range of $13 to $14 an hour, while labour advocated for $16.15, which they described as a living wage in Manitoba as determined by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The provincial government said Wednesday it's continuing to speak with stakeholders and will release more information on the new rate shortly

"It's important that the minimum wage keeps Manitoba attractive to newcomers as a place to work, live and raise families," said a spokesperson for Labour Minister Reg Helwer in an email.

"This is among the many factors to be considered as we chart a path forward for Manitoba's minimum wage in the short and long term."

The Good Will Social Club on Portage Avenue is a popular music venue, bar and restaurant in Winnipeg. (Stefanie Lasuik/CBC)

Robinson said the Good Will hasn't seen as many patrons as usual this summer, and he attributes that, in part, to people having less disposable income. 

"There's definitely less people going out spending money, and when they are going out, they're being a little bit more frugal. They're not spending the money they used to."

He figures higher wages across the board could change that, which is good for businesses like his.

Robinson said they've raised prices as a result of higher costs for the products they buy, not due to higher wages.

The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, however, said not all businesses can afford the same.

"We do need to be mindful that Manitoba takes a balanced approach, balancing the fact that there are increased cost pressures but also that businesses have faced a very challenging two years and they cannot afford a significant increase such that labour has recommended," said Elisabeth Saftiuk, vice-president of policy and government relations.

Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck, who chairs the review committee's labour caucus, said the committee is usually in agreement on various matters, but he wasn't surprised the two sides are at odds over the minimum wage.

He's urging the government to use this opportunity to lift up the people in need.

"We've taken a position for years that we think if you work full-time, you shouldn't live in poverty," Rebeck said.

"It's a pretty basic premise. It makes sense to us. It seems inherently reasonable."

Under the new legislation that allows for higher wage increases in years of significant inflation, Manitoba must announce the new minimum wage 30 days before it takes effect.

Winnipeg venue boosts minimum wage

4 months ago
Duration 2:04
A few months ago the owners of The Good Will Social Club reached the decision, too many people are suffering financially, burdened by the soaring inflation rate and the pandemic. They boosted their starting wage from around $12 to $16 — higher than almost everywhere in Manitoba's hospitality industry.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. He previously reported on a bit of everything for newspapers. You can reach him at ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With files from Radio-Canada's Chantallya Louis

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