Like the promise of icebergs and capelin, Spring in Newfoundland and Labrador often brings hope for new life and movement after a stagnant winter. Every two years, Spring also brings with it a mandated review of minimum wage. The St. John’s Status of Women Council takes this opportunity to speak about the minimum wage and what we see in our work everyday as people in our province work to make ends meet.
The review report, released to the public at the end of May as a balanced and reader-friendly document, offered perspectives from both employer and employee representatives, outlining how our provincial minimum wage can shape rates of poverty, social determinants of health and the local economy.
The Minimum Wage Review Committee Report confirms what feminist and labour advocates have been saying for eons. Women and other marginalized people, who we know to be people of colour, 2SLGBTQIA+ folks, and people living with disabilities, are carrying the socioeconomic burden of the province as low-wage, precarious and frontline workers. More than half of minimum wage earners are women, working full time, and over the age of 24 years. The age-old excuse that minimum wage earners are largely teens in need of pocket money doesn’t match the stats, unfortunately.
In the report, the writers recommend 5 actions to government:
- An increase in minimum wage to $15 per hour by October 2023;
- Short term financial support for small employers (20 staff or less);
- That the cost of living calculation be based on the local prices rather than federal ones;
- That social supports be reviewed to ensure that people don’t lose access to vital resources while remaining low income earners; and
- That the Government appoint a Standing Minimum Wage Review Committee that would meet more frequently, as opposed to the current ad hoc committee put together every couple of years.
A lot of this makes sense to us and we were happy to read it, recognizing that the minimum wage issues go beyond the dollars and cents of that still important number.
To date, the provincial government responded to the committee’s recommendations by securing three incremental provincial minimum wage increases to $15 per hour by October 2023 and committing to build a support plan for small employers.
In the meantime, our forthcoming creeping adjustments to the minimum wage will be quickly swallowed by ballooning costs of living, while disproportionate impacts continue to be felt in marginalized communities. Without a commitment to review social programs, there is a risk that low wage workers will face further issues with receiving the support they need to make ends meet. These recommendations could work together, but piecemeal adoption of recommendations will leave gaping holes.
When thinking about how much people need to be paid to live, what’s often referenced is the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives 2019 research, which deemed a living wage in St. John’s to be $18.85 per hour. What this means is that people who work full-time must earn $18.85 per hour to afford basic needs like food, housing and transportation (or an equivalent income for people who aren’t working). Since 2019, a pandemic and global economic downturn later, it leaves us wondering how low wage earners will manage these essential needs leading up to, during and beyond 2023, as $15/hr doesn’t come close to our now outdated reference of $18.85 as a living wage in St. John’s.
But $15/hr next year is better than our current $13.20 minimum wage, right? The digestible “something is better than nothing” mentality in response to governmental decision making, while true, is also a product of capitalism and scarcity. Are three small incremental raises to our provincial minimum wage better than none? Yes. But maybe only if the alternative is to do nothing. As the costs of basics like food, housing and transportation continue to rise, gradual increases toward a 2023 minimum wage of $15/hr leaves tough questions about how this slow burn will affect low wage workers, our provincial economy more broadly and our collective pandemic recovery.
Low-wage earning Newfoundlanders and Labradorians—particularly women, marginalized communities and their families—are not out of the woods yet.
St. John’s Status of Women Council
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