Nfld. & Labrador

8 cents is all that stands in N.L.'s way of having Canada's lowest minimum wage

An increase to Manitoba’s minimum wage on Tuesday makes N.L.’s the second-lowest in the country, and workers and advocates are calling on the province for an increase.

It's a struggle to get out of the 'minimum-wage cycle,' says one worker

Catera Mullett works for minimum wage at a grocery store in Marystown. (Submitted by Catera Mullett)

An increase to Manitoba's minimum wage on Tuesday makes Newfoundland and Labrador's minimum rate of pay the second-lowest in the country, and workers and advocates are calling on the province for an increase.

Minimum-wage worker Catera Mullett says while living in St. John's and studying at Memorial University, $11.40 an hour just wasn't enough to make ends meet. In Canada, only Saskatchewan's minimum wage, $11.32, is lower. 

"When I moved to St. John's and I was working at minimum wage and I had to pay rent, it was pretty difficult.… For the most part, it was literally the necessities and that's it," said Mullett.

"There [were] times after I paid bills and picked up groceries and stuff that my bank account was in the negative, which is sad considering I worked close on 30 hours a week."

Newfoundland and Labrador's minimum wage is $11.40 an hour. (CBC)

Mullett said she and her boyfriend rented an apartment in St. John's for $950 a month, plus utilities, and shared the expenses, but paying the bills with their minimum-wage incomes was a struggle.

She said the cost of living has forced her to move back in with her parents and work for minimum wage at a grocery store while taking university courses online.

"The only reason I'm doing it is because it's cheaper for me to stay at home in Marystown than it is to come [to St. John's] and starve to death," she said. 

"That's the reality for many young people who are trying to go to university, to get an education, to better themselves so that they can get out of the minimum-wage cycle, but getting there is a struggle."

Mullett said things are much easier now that she's living at home in Marystown, but she's not sure if she'll be able to afford to live in Newfoundland and Labrador when she moves out on her own again.

"I would like to stay, I do like it here, all my family is here, but if things keep going the way they're going, I'm going to have no choice but to leave," she said.

Alyse Stuart, of $15 and Fairness Newfoundland and Labrador, said Snowmageddon highlighted the need for a higher minimum wage in the province. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Alyse Stuart, chair of advocacy group Common Front NL, says stories like Mullett's are common.

"As we see the millennial generation become the majority, I think this is becoming more and more of an issue. I'm even seeing a lot on social media of folks showing job ads saying you need an undergraduate degree and it starts at $14 an hour," she said.

"These are not living wages. It's not enough."

It's certainly not becoming any easier.- Alyse Stuart

Stuart pointed to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report released in May that pegged the living wage for each adult in a family of four in St. John's at $18.85 an hour. 

"That $11.40 [an hour] is a far cry away from what you actually need to live in this city," she said.

"That puts a lot of pressure on folks that are trying to build a life in this province and this city and trying to make a go of it. It's certainly not becoming any easier."

Benefits for small business 

Stuart said with Newfoundland and Labrador's minimum wage among the lowest in Canada, there is plenty of evidence about the effect of higher wages on small businesses. Her group is pushing for a $15 minimum wage in N.L., which would tie it with Alberta's minimum wage as highest in the country.

"We have a plethora of research that shows all of these fears that business have, small and large, they haven't been founded. We've actually seen job increases. We've seen businesses that also have seen increases in their profits," she said.

"The more money that stays in the local economy through wages, the more money that's spent in the local economy,"

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Stephen Miller

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