Saskatchewan

A matter of business cents: Sask. shop owner says giving employees $15/hr pays off

Some Saskatchewan business owners are choosing to pay more than the minimum wage. The minimum wage in Saskatchewan will increase this October to $11.32, but it will still be the lowest in the country. 

Some business owners choosing to pay more than Sask.'s minimum wage

Aleana Young (centre) said she decided to pay her employees more than minimum wage. (CBC)

Aleana Young just celebrated her business's two-year anniversary. 

Takeaway Gourmet is a small, luxury food shop that imports cheese, condiments and other specialty items from Europe and Saskatchewan-made products.

It's a niche business, and Young, who is now the NDP candidate for Regina University, said some people thought she would fail. 

But now she has five other employees and pays them all $15 an hour to stock shelves and offer samples to customers. That's nearly $4 more than Saskatchewan's minimum wage of $11.06. 

"I didn't want to be a hypocrite. I fundamentally believe in a living wage," said Young. "I don't think that keeping people living in poverty or below the poverty line is sustainable for society.

"I wanted to see if I could live my values and work it into a feasible and successful business."

Aleana Young opened Regina's Takeaway Gourmet in 2017. (Takeaway Gourmet/Facebook)

Employee says the wage is welcome

Salesperson Abby Saunderson, 18, said she didn't know she would be making that much when she took the job. But it was a nice surprise. 

She still lives with her parents, but she's saving her money to travel as a ski instructor, her true passion. 

Businesses that are making those minimum wages higher are making it easier for people to basically just live.- Takeaway Gourmet employee Abby Saunderson

"I know a lot of people move jobs mostly because of money and you can't support yourself or even live on your own with a minimum wage," said Saunderson. "Businesses that are making those minimum wages higher are making it easier for people to basically just live."

Pacific Fresh Fish opened in Regina in 1982. Owner Ted Williams said he paid his first employee in fish, but once he began making profits, he paid a living wage. He also pays employees profit shares. 

Staff at Regina's Pacific Fresh Fish are paid higher than minimum wage and receive company shares. (Submitted by Ted Williams)

"I've always felt that people deserve to know as much as you can afford to give them," said Williams. "I never expected people to work for minimum wage. But I always hoped that they would understand that I was being fair to them and that they would be therefore fair and loyal to me. 

"And for the most part that's always worked."

Employees of Pacific Fresh Fish got a raise on Aug. 1 to $14.75 an hour and their profit shares went to about $1.50. Williams said it isn't exactly entry-level work because he expects his workers to take responsibility for the business. 

Williams said he doesn't think all businesses have to pay the same, but he questions how low-paying bosses are able to keep people.

"What happens right now without having the government intervening is the employer-employee relationship is based on essentially what the employer would like to pay the employee to keep the employee," said John Hopkins, CEO Regina & District Chamber of Commerce.

Sask. has lowest minimum wage in country

The minimum wage in Saskatchewan will increase to $11.32 per hour on October 1, 2019. But it will still be the lowest minimum wage in the country. 

The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) is opposed to raising the minimum wage. 

It says doing so may force employers to cut hours or jobs.

"Minimum wage is a blunt tool to address poverty and help low-income earners," said Marilyn Braun-Pollon, vice-president of CFIB prairies. "CFIB has always advocated for the government to focus on more practical and effective ways to help low-income earners, such as providing additional income tax relief and helping low-income workers upgrade their skills."

Marilyn Braun-Pollon, vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business for the prairies, said CFIB is opposed to increasing the minimum wage. (Submitted by CFIB)

Braun-Pollon said over 60 per cent of minimum wage workers in Canada are between the ages of 15 and 24. She said her research has shown that as minimum wage rises significantly, business owners hire more experienced adult workers, instead of younger workers, at the same rate.

Last fall, Regina city councillors shot down a policy to pay city employees and contractors $16.95 an hour. 

Administration recommended the city not adopt the policy of becoming a designated living-wage employer and stick with the status quo. 

"Our employees are well paid," said Regina Mayor Michael Fougere.

NDP leader Ryan Meili has said he will raise the minimum wage to $15, in line with Alberta, if his party is elected next year.

About the Author

Alex Soloducha is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan.

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