Despite campaign pressure, minimum wages remain stubbornly low

| March 7, 2016
Photo: flickr/OFL Communications Department

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During the 2015 federal election, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau attacked NDP leader Tom Mulcair's promise to increase the federal minimum wage. He argued that it would only help a small number of workers, as most workers are bound by minimum wage policies of their provincial governments.

In the final part of rabble's minimum wage series, labour reporter Teuila Fuatai looks at how minimum wage and basic income programs are faring in the provinces and territories.

READ the full series on Canada and the minimum wage here.

 

 

British Columbia

B.C.'s minimum wage workers are currently being paid $10.45 an hour -- 20 cents more than they were last year. The increase in the general rate was implemented by the province's Liberal government in September. The Liberals also announced last year that the minimum wage would be adjusted annually based on changes in the B.C. consumer price index. While the B.C. NDP has criticized the lack of significant movement in the province's minimum wage, the party declined to support the local Fight for 15 campaign when asked about the movement during an interview with The Tyee in March 2015.

Alberta

Alberta's NDP government appears to be leading the way in minimum wage legislation improvements. The party, which campaigned on a four-year promise to reach a $15 hourly rate, increased the province's general minimum hourly rate in October by $1 to $11.20. Its handling of its minimum wage promise is being scrutinized by both the party's critics and supporters. The absence of a substantive plan detailing the wage hikes needed over the next three years has also been a sore point for the young government.

Saskatchewan

Debate around a possible basic income scheme in Saskatchewan flared last year after an advisory group on poverty reduction -- appointed by the province's Conservative Saskatchewan Party government -- recommended implementing a pilot program. While both the local NDP and Green Party supported the recommendation, the Conservative government said after the report's release further research into a pilot project was needed. At the moment, the general minimum wage in the province is $10.50 an hour, including a 30-cent increase from October. Annual changes in the rate are based on changes in the Saskatchewan consumer price index and average hourly wage from the previous year

Manitoba

Manitoba's general minimum wage, currently $11 an hour, has increased each year since 2000 under the leadership of the provincial NDP government. In 1999 -- when the NDP took over from the Progressive Conservative party -- minimum wage workers were earning just $6 an hour. While there is no mandatory requirement to adjust the minimum wage, the province's minimum wage board -- appointed by the labour minister -- regularly reviews it. The province's Liberal party, which holds only one seat in the legislature, has also stated it wants to launch two basic income pilot programs if elected to office in next month's provincial elections.

Ontario

The creation of a basic income pilot program for Ontario was tabled as part of the Liberal government's 2016 budget. According to budget documents, the government will work with community groups and experts to design a pilot program. Meanwhile, the province's general minimum wage earners will find out next month how much their pay -- currently $11.25 an hour -- is due to increase by this year. Annual increases in the minimum wage are tied to changes in the Ontario consumer price index. Legislation ensuring this yearly change was enacted in November 2014.

Quebec

Quebec's Liberal provincial government is investigating options for a basic income program. Employment and Social Solidarity minister François Blais -- a veteran economist supportive of basic income guarantee -- has been tasked with the job by premier Philippe Couillard. The Liberal government has also announced the general minimum wage is scheduled to increase by 20 cents to $10.75 in May. The wage has increased in small amounts each May since 2004.

Newfoundland and Labrador

The province's recently elected Liberal government has promised to review rules around minimum wage. There is no legislation mandating regular increases in the minimum rate, however, the government is required to review the rate every two years. In 2012, a government-appointed committee undertook a review of the province's minimum wage and recommended tying annual increases in the rate to changes in the provincial consumer price index. While the Progressive Conservative party did not adopt this recommendation, both the current Liberal government and the provincial NDP were supportive of indexing of the minimum wage to the cost of living and the consumer price index. The general minimum wage in the province was raised by 25 cents to $10.25 an hour in October.

New Brunswick

The Liberal government has set a general minimum wage target of $11 an hour by next year. Currently set at $10.30, the rate is due to increase to $10.65 next month. The Liberals also support annual increases in the minimum wage based on inflation. At the moment, the rate must be reviewed every two years, however any adjustments are optional. While the previous Conservative government did not believe in scheduling regular rate changes, the province's Green party -- which has one MLA -- wants the minimum wage completely phased out and replaced with a living wage.

Nova Scotia

Annual changes in Nova Scotia's minimum wage are based on the previous year's consumer price index for Canada. The next rate hike, due to be implemented on April 1, will increase the general minimum wage by 10 cents to $10.70 an hour. While the province's Liberal government and the NDP are supportive of ongoing increases to the rate, the NDP has endorsed the Fight for $15 campaign.

Prince Edward Island

Unlike other provinces in Canada, the concept of a basic income scheme has drawn widespread support among PEI politicians. During last year's provincial election campaign, all four main parties supported investigating how a basic income scheme would work in P.E.I. The Liberal government, which promised to undertake research into a pilot program, has also scheduled two increases in the general minimum wage rate for this year. In June, a 25-cent raise will increase the hourly minimum pay to $10.75. Another 25-cent hike is scheduled for October. The minimum wage is reviewed annually by the government.

The territories

The general minimum wage in the Yukon is $10.86 an hour. Annual increases in the rate are based on changes in the consumer price index for Whitehorse. For minimum wage workers in the Northwest Territories, the current hourly rate is $12.50 -- the highest in Canada. The previous NWT $10 hourly rate, set in 2011, was increased in June after a government review found it equalled only 36 per cent of the average hourly wage in the province. In other Canadian jurisdictions, the minimum wage accounts for about 45 per cent of the average hourly wage. The wage increase in NWT brought its minimum wage in line with this national average. In Nunavut, an increase in the general minimum wage has been scheduled for next month. The new rate of $13 an hour, up from $11, was announced last year following a government review.

Meanwhile, leaders at the municipal level in all three territories have been supportive of basic income policy. The mayors of Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Iqualit told leadersandlegacies.com investigating how a basic income program would be useful in tackling problems associated with the high cost of living in the North.

 

Follow this series on Canada and the minimum wage:

Part 1: Wages vs. workers: How Canada's minimum rates compare

Part 2: Scraping by on the minimum wage and the Fight for $15

Part 3: Canada's minimum income experiment and the fight against poverty

Part 4: The business of the living wage

Part 5: Despite campaign pressure, minimum wages remain stubbornly low

Teuila Fuatai is a recent transplant to Canada from Auckland, New Zealand. She settled in Toronto in September following a five-month travel stint around the United States. In New Zealand, she worked as a general news reporter for the New Zealand Herald and APNZ News Service for four years after studying accounting, communication and politics at the University of Otago. As a student, she had her own radio show on the local university station and wrote for the student magazine. She is rabble's labour beat reporter this year.

Photo: flickr/OFL Communications Department

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