New Brunswick to raise 'downright embarrassing' minimum wage $2 next year — to $13.75
Announcement wage will rise $1 in April, $1 in October takes business groups by surprise
New Brunswick's minimum wage will increase by $2 in 2022 to correct an hourly rate the province's labour minister called "downright embarrassing."
A $1 increase will take effect in April, with another $1 increase in October, bringing the rate to $13.75. It's a 17 per cent increase over the current rate of $11.75.
"We are currently dead last in the country in terms of our minimum wage and significantly behind our Atlantic Canadian neighbours," Trevor Holder, the province's minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, said at a news conference Thursday morning.
"This fact has been something that has been troubling me as minister of labour for some time. To be frank, it's downright embarrassing."
The increase follows a five-cent increase in 2021 the New Brunswick Common Front for Social Justice had called too small to make a difference for those earning minimum wage.
Abram Lutes, the group's provincial co-ordinator, said next year's increase still doesn't go far enough. Lutes said the group's position is that the minimum wage should be set at $15 and then be adjusted annually.
"We are glad the government has started to budge on the issue," he said in an interview. "But there's still a lot of catching up to do."
The wage increase falls below what the Human Development Council has calculated as a "livable wage" in four New Brunswick cities. It calculated a living wage would be from $17.50 per hour in Bathurst to $21.20 in Fredericton when accounting for things like housing, necessities and child care.
Randy Hatfield, executive director of the Human Development Council in Saint John, said the calculation is meant to demonstrate what it would cost a family to live with dignity and choice in the communities.
"Clearly the minimum wage, even increased by $2, is not a living wage, but it is a marked improvement over the current situation and it's an announcement that we welcome," Hatfield said.
New Brunswick had tied yearly increases to changes in the consumer price index, a measure of changes in the cost of living.
Holder said the province determined a "one-time correction" was needed. He said the province will resume using CPI to adjust the rate in 2023.
Holder said the 2022 increases are expected to affect 15,500 minimum wage earners as well as 30,000 others who make more than the current minimum wage, but below $13.75 per hour.
Business group pans lack of consultation
The move was met by criticism by some business groups.
Restaurants Canada said in a statement it could add $25,000 to the cost of operating a restaurant in the province.
"This is an unreasonably drastic increase that couldn't be coming at a worse time for New Brunswick's restaurants," Luc Erjavec, the association's vice-president for Atlantic Canada, said in the statement.
The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton said in a statement it is "concerned by the New Brunswick government's sudden and ill-timed announcement."
Jim Cormier, Atlantic director of the Retail Council of Canada, said the organization isn't opposed to increases to minimum wages, but it should have been consulted.
"We understand that New Brunswick had been falling behind," Cormier said in an interview Thursday. "It would have been nice, though, to get a little bit of consultation with industry in advance of this occurring."
He said businesses expected the wage rate to increase in April based on CPI and need a transparent and predictable process to know what to budget for the future.
"So that creates some some havoc among business owners, where they're going to have to try and adjust very quickly, particularly for the increase that's going to happen on April 1st."
Holder didn't say if consultation took place place specifically on the $2 increase, but that there has been consultation on minimum wages over the years.
Minimum wages in other Atlantic provinces
The minister said the increase was in part to bring the province closer to other Atlantic provinces so they can discuss harmonizing the rate across the region.
In Nova Scotia, the rate is $12.95 and will increase in April in line with CPI.
Newfoundland and Labrador increased its rate 25 cents as of October to $12.75.
Prince Edward Island will increase its rate 70 cents to $13.70 as of April 2022.