Manitoba

Manitoba moves to raise minimum wage after receiving flak for soon offering Canada's lowest

The Manitoba government wants to give itself the legislative powers to boost the minimum wage presumably above a rate that's poised to be the lowest in Canada this October.

Wages can increase beyond scheduled October rate hike because of high inflationary rate

With new legislation, Manitoba's minimum wage may go up higher than the $12.35 that is scheduled to rise to on Oct. 1, 2022. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

The Manitoba government wants to give itself the authority to boost the minimum wage, presumably above a rate poised to be the lowest in Canada this October.

Under new legislation introduced Monday, the provincial government would have the ability to hike minimum wage increases above and beyond the annual legislative increases that are already tied to inflation.

The province will only have this authority in the years in which the inflation rate exceeds five per cent, such as the current year in which the cost of living is soaring.

"We are living in very uncertain times right now, and certainly that's what we're seeing throughout not just the Canadian economy but throughout the world," labour minister Reg Helwer said.

"That's why we felt it was necessary to move an amendment of this nature so that we could have those discussions with business and labour.

Helwer said the wage will be determined by those consultations.

The lowest wage in Manitoba is currently $11.95 an hour. Under the existing formula of tying wage hikes to inflation, the lowest earners are slated to receive an extra 40 cents an hour, to $12.35, by Oct. 1.

But that modest pay bump would put Manitoba at the bottom of wage-earners in the country, given Saskatchewan would boost their minimum wage that same day to $13 an hour by October 2022 and eventually $15 by 2024.

Provinces across the country have been pushed to boost the minimum wage as inflationary pressures have intensified. Helwer said "economic circumstances" are behind Manitoba's decision to amend its legislation.

Earlier this month, Premier Heather Stefanson appeared to brush aside questions of raising the minimum wage, saying many employers have already been voluntarily increasing wages to cope with the ongoing labour shortage.

Wages have 'somewhat gotten behind'

But last Friday, she acknowledged Manitoba needs to be more competitive with other provinces in the pay it offers.

"Even though we have indexed our minimum wage to inflation, I think we have somewhat gotten behind where other provinces have gone and so we want to ensure that we are not falling behind there," Stefanson told reporters after a meeting of the Western Premiers' Conference in Regina.

The Tory government passed legislation in 2017 to index the minimum wage to the rate of inflation. 

The Manitoba Federation of Labour likes the idea of the government consulting on the minimum wage, but president Kevin Rebeck says the province should have been doing so years ago. 

Rebeck will advocate for the lowest-earners being paid more closely to a living wage, which he said is around $16 an hour. 

Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, said he'll advocate for a minimum wage approaching an hourly rate of around $16. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

"If government needs to work on a plan that gets there but has that end goal in mind, that's something we can agree on," he said.

"If we need to do that in two steps or three steps like some provinces have done, we should do so. I look at some provinces like New Brunswick, like Saskatchewan, who were lower than us [with their minimum wage] and are taking significant steps to increase it a dollar or more each year until it gets to a more sustainable level."

NDP Leader Wab Kinew wanted the government on Monday to promise a substantial increase to the minimum wage.

"The bill that they ended up bringing forward, I think it's just about the appearance of action," he said.

"At the end of the day, we're going to have this reality in Manitoba where folks can work full-time in our province on minimum wage and still be living below the poverty line. I don't think that that lines up with our values."

Kinew said the NDP would not hold up the bill from passing before the legislature rises through the summer on Wednesday. 

Any wage hike above the legislated formula must be announced 30 days before it takes effect, and can only take effect between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 of that year, the legislation says.

Statistics Canada data requested by the Manitoba Federation of Labour estimates more than 23,000 workers were making the minimum wage or less in 2021. Individuals making a lower amount would include gig economy workers, whose pay is not always legislated by government.

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.

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