Nova Scotia

Cost of living at record level in N.S. and wages need to rise, says report

The report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows Nova Scotia has the second-lowest average weekly earnings in the country.

The report, released Wednesday, calls on government and employers to address low wages, working conditions

A report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives - Nova Scotia indicates the living wage ranges from a low of $20 per hour in Cape Breton to $23.50 per hour in the Halifax area. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A new report suggests the living wage in Nova Scotia is at an all-time high, and calls on employers as well as government to respond. 

The report, released Wednesday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives - Nova Scotia, shows living wage — the theoretical income needed to afford adequate shelter, food, and other necessities — has risen by five to eight per cent compared to 2021.

"This year, I think no surprise to anyone, we've seen the highest increase year over year in the living wage rate," said Christine Saulnier, Nova Scotia director of the centre and author of the report.

The report indicates the living wage ranges from a low of $20 per hour in Cape Breton to $23.50 per hour in Halifax Regional Municipality. Nova Scotia has the second-lowest average weekly earnings in the country just ahead of P.E.I.

Saulnier said the living wage is considered as the minimum hourly wage earned in a 35-hour work week that would meet the current cost of living.

She said the choice to use a 35-hour work week for the calculation reflects the importance of work-life balance.

Christine Saulnier is the Nova Scotia director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and is the author of the report. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

"We don't want to just live to work. We want to work to live," said Saulnier.

The minimum wage in Nova Scotia is currently $13.35 per hour.

Cost of living far outpacing wage

Between June 2021 and June 2022, consumer prices in Nova Scotia increased by 9.3 per cent, the biggest jump since 1982.

Rent costs rose by an average of 8.2 per cent and food by 8.8 per cent.

Danny Cavanagh, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, said he's calculated that a minimum-wage worker would have to work more than four weeks at 40 hours a week to pay for enough oil to fill a 200-gallon tank. 

"If you have to work a month on minimum wage to buy enough oil to keep you and your family warm this winter, where the hell are they going to get the money for all the other staples they need?"

Danny Cavanagh is the president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Wages have increased by an average of just 4.1 per cent in the last year — and Saulnier said that's a historical problem.

"I looked at the 18-year period between 2001 and 2019 to see what happened to wages. We saw very little wage increase in those years where inflation was very low," she said.

The report suggests that the minimum wage must match the living wage and Saulnier said governments and employers share this responsibility.

Employers, governments must act

Cavanagh said employers need to realize that if they don't pay employees more, they'll lose them.

"There's no question wages need to go up," he said "And I think you're going to see, you know, what a huge move towards that. And the employers that don't want to keep up, they're just going to be left behind."

Saulnier said paying higher wages and improving working conditions will be beneficial to employers as well.

"Employees are more likely to stay — I think this is common sense — if they're not stressing about paying for rent," she said.

"It is about our employers recognizing that employees deserve decent working conditions, including living wage."

The report recommends governments focus on non-market solutions, such as: increased investment in not-for-profit housing, increased benefits and reduced transit costs.

"There's also more we could be doing to expand public health care to cover drug costs, to cover other costs that people are incurring out of pocket," said Saulnier.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Inniss is a reporter based in Halifax Nova Scotia. If you have a story idea email adam.inniss@cbc.ca. Follow on Twitter at @InnissAdam

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