Sask. rallies protest lowest minimum wage in country
Organizers call for minimum to be raised to $15/hour
A workers' advocacy group held rallies in Regina and Saskatoon Monday to ask the provincial government to raise the province's minimum wage.
Saskatchewan has the lowest minimum wage in the country at $11.06 per hour as of April 1, after Nova Scotia increased its minimum wage to $11.55 per hour for most workers.
"The minimum wage right now in Saskatchewan is a poverty wage," protest organizer Saima Desai told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition.
"The idea that folks are working full time in Saskatchewan making close to eleven dollars an hour and aren't able to provide for their kids, aren't able to buy groceries, aren't able to make rent. To me, that is frankly cruel."
The group Fight for $15 Saskatchewan decided to hold a rally demanding that the provincial government increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, in response to a well-publicized campaign across Canada and the United States.
As of now, only Alberta has a $15 minimum wage, with British Columbia's minimum wage expected to rise to $15.20 by 2021.
Both provinces phased their increases in over several years, a strategy that Desai said has worked in many jurisdictions.
"It gives small businesses time to adapt," she said. "It's an approach that for example has been successful in Seattle, which instituted a $15 minimum wage over a while."
Meanwhile, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is not convinced increasing the minimum wage in Saskatchewan would help anyone.
The group, which represents small and mid-size business, says any increase of the minimum wage will come at the expense of jobs.
"Hiking minimum wage to $15 may sound like a good idea ,but the evidence shows that it's a job killer," said spokesperson Marilyn Braun-Pollon. "We've done research that shows that it would have an impact and disproportionately hurt young workers."
Braun-Pollon said businesses that traditionally pay minimum wage would be hit hard, especially at a time of potential economic downturn.
"For example, the hospitality and retail sector would be hard hit by a 36 percent increase in minimum wage, if we went from $11.06 to $15," she said. "So, it sounds like a good idea until you look at the impact it would have not only on the economy but also those that you're hoping to help."
The CFIB advocates for other ways to address low wages, including a high tax exemption rate for low income workers.
"Saskatchewan has the second highest basic exemption level in the country," she said. "That certainly is allowing low income earners to keep as much money in their pocket as possible."
Saskatchewan's wage is adjusted relative to the Consumer Price Index, which measures the price of consumer goods and services.
- An earlier version of this story said the rallies were organized by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. In fact, Fight for $15 Saskatchewan organized the rallies.Apr 03, 2019 3:18 PM CT