Nfld. & Labrador

Raising N.L.'s minimum wage to $15/h will reduce poverty, coalition group says

Newfoundland and Labrador has the second-lowest minimum wage in Canada, and Common Front NL says people can't live on that.

Common Front NL launched its campaign to increase provincial minimum wage

Alyse Stuart of Common Front NL says that her group has heard many stories from people working minimum wage and unable to afford basic necessities. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Working full time, but unable to afford both groceries and the heating bill. Cobbling together a living with a variety of insecure, low-paying jobs, but barely getting by. Unable to find affordable childcare in order to go to a job that pays minimum wage.

These are the stories a group working on raising Newfoundland and Labrador's minimum wage says they have heard as they travel the province.

Women are not born vulnerable.- Jenny Wright

Raising N.L.'s minimum wage to $15 an hour would help people rise out of poverty or near-poverty while providing a boost to the overall economy, says Common Front NL, a coalition of organizations in the province working toward increased minimum wage.

"The more that you're bringing folks out of the poverty line, the more that you're lifting people up, the more money that actually stays in the local economy," said Alyse Stuart, chair of Common Front NL.

Common Front NL launched its $15 and Fairness campaign Tuesday in St. John's.

Increased minimum wage is one of the easiest tools we have available to reduce the complicated problem of poverty, including child poverty, said Jenny Wright, executive director of the St. John's Status of Women Council.

"This is such a quick and efficient tool to better and change people's lives, and in that sense it's just a win-win," Wright said.

Ontario's $15 wage plans on hold

Campaigns to increase minimum wages have begun in cities across Canada and the United States in recent years, and several jurisdictions have committed to increasing the minimum wage for workers.

Amazon recently announced it would increase its company-wide minimum wage to $15 per hour, for example, and Seattle raised the wage to the same level. 

Newfoundland and Labrador has the second-lowest minimum wage in Canada at $11.15 per hour. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

However, Ontario's new PC government cancelled a previously-planned minimum wage increase when it took office. The raise, which would have put minimum wage at $15, was derided by the PCs as difficult for businesses to absorb.

When the minimum wage previously increased, some businesses — including larger ones like Tim Hortons — said they had to raise prices or cut benefits, even work breaks, to make up for the extra operating cost. 

Responses like that are why the Common Front NL campaign is asking for not only an increased minimum wage, but fair working conditions as well.

Research on effects of $15/h

Common Front NL cited a study on the wage increase in Seattle that showed so far, workers have made more money despite having fewer working hours.

As well, the Seattle study found that employee turnover has decreased in the city, That's just one of the benefits of a higher minimum wage, for both employers and employees, Wright said.

"It's less cost to employers when they don't have a constant turnover," she said.

If we want folks to stay in this province, we need to give them the tools to do so.- Alyse Stuart

Also, Wright added, when employees earn more money they can spend more in the local economy.

However, some research has found that inexperienced workers had fewer opportunities for employment as higher minimum wages meant experienced workers stayed in positions for longer. And overall, the effects of higher minimum wage are hard to study as they touch a variety of different sectors of society.

One of those sectors is women and children, Wright said, pointing out that women in Newfoundland and Labrador are more likely to be minimum wage earners.

And when women are poor their children are too, she said, which is particularly felt in a province with a gender wage gap of 63 per cent.

"Women are not born vulnerable," she said. 

"They are made vulnerable by sexist legislations and policies."

Minimum wage now $11.15

In Newfoundland and Labrador, a person working full time at a minimum-wage job will make about $23,000 annually, Stuart said — only about 15 per cent above the poverty line.

Newfoundland and Labrador's minimum wage, which is currently $11.15, is now the second lowest in the country — Saskatchewan is lowest at $11.06 — but not long ago was relatively high.

Alyse Stuart and Jenny Wright launched Common Front NL's Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

As the cost of living has increased, the minimum wage has not changed to match, Stuart said, and now it's harder for people to earn enough to live in the province.

Some local businesses are already choosing to pay more than minimum wage to retain employees, Stuart said. 

"We want folks to stay in this province," Stuart said.

"If we want folks to stay in this province, we need to give them the tools to do so."

Read more articles at CBC Newfoundland and Labrador