Think tank calls for uniform minimum wage across Atlantic provinces

Atlantic Provinces Economic Council says tying minimum wage to inflation would help the regional economy, but a labour federation says workers will remain short of a proper living wage.

APEC says tying wage to inflation offers predictability for both business and workers

APEC says the Atlantic economy would be served well by a standardized minimum wage tied to inflation.

An East Coast research institute is calling for a standardized minimum wage across the four Atlantic provinces.

The Atlantic Provinces Economic Council said a regulated wage tied to inflation would bring predictability and consistency to the regional economy. The new report on minimum wage from the council said businesses could develop plans and pricing with greater clarity and workers would be ensured cost of living increases.

David Chaundy, the council's director of research, said the move would be a "powerful signal" by the Atlantic premiers to show their commitment to a regional regulatory environment.

He said the council's research shows businesses would be on board.

"They have to deal with a lot of differences in regulation, whether it's labour regulations, environmental regulations, corporate registries," he said. "They'd benefit from a greater alignment of those regulations."

The premiers of the four Atlantic provinces hold a news conference after a meeting in Halifax on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

The report said multi-province firms account for 43 per cent of business sector employment in Atlantic Canada.

Impact on workers

Nova Scotia's minimum wage is already tied to increases in the consumer price index, and the other three provinces have either committed to the same policy or are considering it.

"Having a common minimum wage would not seem to have any major concerns around wage structures in the four provinces," said Chaundy, noting the Atlantic minimum wages have varied by less than five per cent in the past five years.

In fact, Atlantic minimum wages have mostly kept pace with inflation in the past three decades, the report stated.

A standardized wage would provide a level of certainty for minimum wage workers, ensuring cost of living increases, Chaundy said. The Bank of Canada aims to keep inflation around two per cent.

Food service industry workers account for a quarter of Atlantic Canadian minimum wage earners.

Almost 64,000 Atlantic Canadians earned minimum wage in 2016, accounting for 6.6 per cent of all employees. More than a third work in retail, while 23 per cent work in accommodation and food services, the report stated.

More than half of Atlantic minimum wage earners are between the ages of 15 and 24.

Business, labour groups respond

Patrick Colford, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, said profits from business wouldn't necessarily be felt by low-wage earners.

Colford also raised concerns for how businesses may act once facing higher wage costs. He nodded to the new Tim Hortons controversy in Ontario, where some employees came forward to say they were told to sign a document acknowledging they would lose benefits as a result of a minimum wage hike.

The New Brunswick Business Council is supportive of a standardized minimum wage. President Adrienne O'Pray said closer regulatory alignment is needed in other areas, such as taxation, inter-provincial trade and vehicle licensing.

She called regional collaboration a "must."

"Businesses looking to invest in Atlantic Canada would also find this attractive," O'Pray told CBC News. "Anything governments can do to make it simple for businesses to operate across provinces is a step forward in growing our economy."