Nfld. & Labrador

Can you live on part-time wages in N.L.? Sort of

Surviving with just a part-time job is tough — but some Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have no choice.

'You don't feel like a part of the community — or society in general — when you don't have disposable income'

From left, Steven Fost, Melissa Flight and Sheldon Crocker all work part-time. (Noah Laybolt/CBC)

Part-time work isn't just for students and retirees — some adults rely on part-time income to survive.

When Loblaws restructured its employee hierarchy to eliminate full-time positions at Newfoundland and Labrador stores, it introduced more part-timers to the workforce. But will those part-timers be able to support themselves with minimal hours? And how hard is it to get by without the comfort of a full-time position?

Melissa Flight has been working the same part-time gig at the Works, Memorial University's recreation facility, for 16 years, and says she couldn't even afford to go full-time if she wanted to. 

In order to make the transition, she'd have to pay into vacation time and a pension. Even after over a decade of work with the company, she's not in a financial position to take that loss. 

"And then you also have to pay a premium for the benefits package, which is about $150 a month. So that's an additional $150 on top of the 18 per cent that you're already losing," she said. "So if you're already struggling to get by as it is, how are you supposed to get by with 25 per cent less than what you were working with before?"

I have had to frequently go to the food bank.- Melissa Flight

In the entire fieldhouse and Aquarena, there are about 200 workers. Only four of those employees are full-time. That's roughly one full-timer for every 50 hires, meaning the vast majority of the gym's employees aren't covered by a dental plan from their employer.

Flight works part-time at the Works. (Noah Laybolt/CBC)

"I've had to pay out of pocket for dental work that's been godawful expensive. Like I didn't pay my bills one month because of dental expenses," said Flight.

Frequent trips to food banks

With the living wage in Newfoundland and Labrador calculated at $18.85 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, part-time work is a difficult way to get by. 

"Fifty-four hours at $12.85 an hour is not that much money. I have had to frequently go to the food bank or live off of very basic, basic groceries. Like, hummus should not be a luxury," she said. "Just living off of frozen fruits and vegetables, and eggs and toast. It's not conducive to a healthy lifestyle in general."

The gap between the minimum wage and the calculated living wage for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians is stopping Flight from living what she considers to be a healthy, satisfying lifestyle.

"Like coffee," she said. "I can't afford that some weeks. And that's weeks. Or even a month. I couldn't even afford to buy a coffee. What kind of a lifestyle is that? It isn't one, right?" 

If Flight doesn't get overtime hours, her entire life goes on hold. She can't afford to see movies or get a drink with her friends, and the social isolation that results from that can be a mental health problem. 

"I do have a tendency to be isolated because I don't have money for coffee. I can't go out to lunch or a movie with friends, anything like that," she said. "And a lot of my friends do have full-time jobs, so they do have disposable cash. You hate being the one that has to say, 'Oh, sorry, I can't afford to do that.'"

She said she doesn't want her friends to always have to be the ones to treat her, never the other way around.

"You don't feel like a part of the community — or a part of society in general — when you don't have disposable income at all." 

Family, friendships a key factor

She's been losing touch with her friends over the past few years because she can't afford to meet up anywhere.

It's a constant battle.- Stephen Fost

"Part of the whole scenario there is that I have tended not to even call them because I don't have the money to do anything. And I don't feel like being a charity case for the millionth time over." 

Flight has considered leaving Newfoundland to find work elsewhere. But the Rock is home to her, and like many other Newfoundlanders, she has a hard time imagining life anywhere else.

"Yeah, I sincerely did consider [leaving]. But, like, I can't imagine being as content [as] here anywhere else. And I have such a strong family and friend base here," she said.

"To leave all that behind, and to leave a place behind that I really truly do love living in, I just … I couldn't really consider it at this time."

Sheldon Crocker grew up on the island, too. He does inspirational speaking for conferences and seminars part-time, recently walked the Tely 10, does volunteer work, is the public relations director of the Positive Thinkers Club and will be featured in the 2020 Merb'ys calendar. 

But he has a physical condition called arthrogryposis that limits his mobility and prevents him from working full-time.

"Full-time income would mean more money. But more money, for me, would come with more issues because I have community support workers," Crocker said.

Crocker is a part-time inspirational speaker. (Sheldon Crocker/CBC)

"And if I'm working full time, from my understanding, I would have to pay their salary fully myself. That's what I understand, anyway," he said. "With part-time, a lot of my community worker hours are paid for. So it's less expensive for me and I get more money from part-time combined with social assistance than what I would if I was working full-time."

Cut off from social assistance

There's only a certain amount of money someone can make before getting cut off from social assistance, he said. 

"The main reason I'm not working full-time is because of the physical disability that I have. I wouldn't be able to last very long without getting tied up," he said.

"I've worked a few traditional jobs in the past. They didn't last very long. I had a lot of issues on the go with my physical health, and I wasn't able to continue."

Steven Fost works at a supermarket in the Goulds area of St. John's. He's a part-timer in a similar situation: he wants to work more, but he can't make the move to full-time hours without losing his social assistance. 

Fost works part-time at Bidgoods Grocery in Goulds. (Noah Laybolt/CBC)

"It used to get me mad at first, because I wasn't getting enough hours. I used to be all spend-spend-spend, get my cheque and spend it all in one day. But I've been learning to hold on to a bit of money," he said.

"At times I can go broke, but I suffers it out. I do miss full-time work. I do."

Fost likes to work, and he prefers to be earning his wages. "I'm not the one to be stuck home. If I was home than I'd be bored."

"I was told that if I get more hours, if I overdo it … for one, I'll lose my dental. Other benefits [too]. I'd probably just lose it all."

That's keeping him from working full-time, he said.

"My dad always says to me, 'You can't work full-time.' Even my social worker said, 'You can't do it cause you'll lose everything you got,'" he said.

"It's a constant battle."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Noah Laybolt is a freelance journalist in St. John's.


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