Sask.'s minimum wage rises to $13/hour, but is lowest in Canada
The minimum wage rise to $15 an hour on Oct. 1, 2024
Starting Saturday, the minimum wage in Saskatchewan increases from $11.81 to $13 per hour. But some experts and community leaders say it will not be enough, with inflation fuelling rising costs of living.
"It is going to take a while to catch up to the cost of living," said Darrell Mills, a minimum wage worker in Saskatoon, noting his gas and food expenses are increasing.
"If you are raising kids or trying to go to school, it's very difficult."
University of Regina business professor Andrew Stevens said while the wage is climbing, "unfortunately we're still at the bottom of the list when compared to other provinces."
With Manitoba also raising its minimum wage on Saturday — up to $13.50 an hour — Saskatchewan now has the lowest wage in the country.
Saskatchewan's minimum wage will further increase again on Oct. 1, 2023, to $14 an hour and to $15 per hour in 2024 — which the Saskatchewan Party government noted in a news release will be an 89 per cent increase from 2007, when the minimum wage in the province was $7.95.
Stevens said while the percentage increase is "substantial," increased housing, food and energy costs will "outstrip the [wage] increase residents will receive."
"Increasing the minimum wage is not going to be a silver bullet," Stevens said.
"If we're really looking at wages and salary as a means of elevating low income status or [getting people] out of poverty, it has to be more comprehensive than just a dollar figure attached to it."
He released a paper in 2017 that made the case for a $15 minimum wage in Saskatchewan, and urged workers to question business models that rely on low wages.
"If we had increased the minimum wage to $15 in 2017, over 90,000 workers would all of a sudden see a wage increase. That would have been significant," he said.
"There's an assumption that minimum wage earners are a bunch of teenagers living in their parents' basement. That's an oversimplification. We know middle-age [people] and seniors are also working for minimum wage."
Stevens said women are also disproportionately represented in the ranks of minimum workers.
Higher wages would financially empower adults working in hospitality, service, grocery or cleaning jobs, he said — the people often called "heroes" during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, but who have since "been ironically forgotten."
"When we talk about increasing the minimum wage, we hear these catastrophic statements that it will have an economic impact. It's a misconception that it will create a hardship for small businesses," Stevens said, adding some Regina small businesses have been vocal proponents of living wages.
But for Sheikh Kamal Ahmed, who owns a grocery store on Saskatoon's 22nd Street, a minimum wage increase for his three employees will add to his operating expenses.
'Small business owners are still struggling'
Ahmed said costs are mounting to import store items from Bangladesh, India and other South Asian countries.
"There is a 20 to 30 per cent increase from the supplier's end," he said. "But we cannot increase the prices of the merchandise as customers won't pay that much."
His utility and rent prices are also being hit by inflation, he said.
"With the minimum wage heading to $15 per hour, it will further impact our business."
Brianna Solberg, a senior policy analyst with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said only half of Saskatchewan's small businesses have reported being back to pre-pandemic sales levels.
Based on data from the CFIB, which represents over 4,300 small businesses in the province, Solberg said most small businesses owners have reported increasing their prices to customers more than usual over the past year to make up for the rising costs. Of those, a large majority "indicate that it is due to increased labour costs specifically," she said.
"This minimum wage hike comes at a time when Saskatchewan small business owners are still struggling to get back on track in the wake of the pandemic."
She said the minimum wage increase will pressure employers to "bump employee wages even for those already earning above the minimum."
The federation has called on the provincial government to suspend collection of small business taxes until more businesses have had a chance to recover, and to abandon a PST expansion that is also effective as of Saturday.
"Small businesses are already increasing their wages above the minimum to attract labour but shortages still persist," Solberg said, adding the CFIB favours gradual increases instead of a significant jump.
This month's minimum wage increase, and those planned for 2023 and 2024, mark a departure from the indexation formula the province has previously used to determine changes to the rate.
"We hope the government stays committed to returning to its indexation formula when minimum wage hits $15 in 2024," said Solberg.
But Peter Gilmer, an advocate with the Regina Anti-poverty Ministry, disagreed, saying neither $13 nor $15 is enough.
Citing a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Gilmer said maintaining a decent standard of living requires a wage of $16.23 per hour in Regina and $16.89 per hour in Saskatoon.
"While indexing is important, one should not be indexing poverty," he said.
'Living wage is quintessential'
Gilmer said years of very low minimum wage and the current inflationary pressures will put many in touch choices that many households are already facing.
"Raising the minimum wage to a living wage will ensure basic necessities are being met, which is certainly not happening right now, and it would reduce outmigration" from Saskatchewan to other provinces, he said.
"The province should be more aggressive in providing greater wage security for low-income workers. A strong wage policy movement to a living wage does create greater equity for marginalized groups like Indigenous people and visible minorities who are in that equity gap," said Gilmer.
"A living wage is quintessential in alleviating the worsening poverty in Saskatchewan. We argue it's a basic human right that the provinces have committed under international law."
A Canadian making less than $22,518 after tax is considered below the poverty line, according to data cited in a 2021 report from Campaign 2000, a national coalition of organizations that work toward ending poverty in Canada.
Gilmer said while $13 is a "small movement" in the right direction, it will still leave the minimum wage "well below a living wage."
"There's still a long way to go toward elimination of poverty and minimum wage can't be the only answer."
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