The minimum wage in Nova Scotia will rise from $12.55 to $12.95 on April 1, but some workers and advocates say that’s not enough to meet the cost of living.
On Tuesday, Labour and Advanced Education Minister Lena Metlege Diab announced the government had accepted a recommendation from the Minimum Wage Review Committee to raise the minimum wage by 30 cents, plus 10 cents based on the increase in the national consumer price index.
“We need to ensure our economy can grow in a fair and balanced way for both employees and employers,” Metlege Diab said in a news release.
At $12.95, Nova Scotia’s minimum wage will be the second highest in Atlantic Canada.
Still, Bailey MacDonald says that minimum wage makes it hard to scrape by. He works a retail job in New Glasgow and is in the process of moving to Halifax.
“I believe that we have a criminally low minimum wage,” said MacDonald, “especially when you take into account the cost of living in the city.”
According to a 2019 report from Statistics Canada, almost half of Canadian minimum wage workers are 25 or older, and 13.4 per cent are 55 and older. Approximately six out of 10 minimum wage workers are women.
“I look at my grandmother, who’s in her mid-60s and is still working minimum wage because she can’t afford to retire,” said MacDonald.
A living wage?
Christine Saulnier, director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in Nova Scotia, said there are a “substantive” number of full-time workers making under $15 an hour.
Saulnier would like to see the provincial minimum wage set to $15, but argues even that increase wouldn’t be enough.
According to a report by the centre and the Saint John Human Development Council, the living wage in Halifax was $21.80 an hour in 2020. The lowest living wage in Nova Scotia was in Bridgewater, at $16.80.
The living wage is calculated using cost of living expenses (including food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and other basic necessities) in communities. The new provincial minimum wage of $12.95 is still below the living wage in Nova Scotia communities.
Saulnier said the responsibility to provide a living wage does not fall squarely on employers. She said the government needs to address the impact of low wages on workers.
“Minimum wage is about protecting workers, and it should be higher,” said Saulnier. “That protection should be stronger.”
Review committee disagreement
According to the Minimum Wage Review Committee report, there was some disagreement between employee and employer representatives over how much the minimum wage should increase.
Employee representatives argued the minimum wage should increase to at least $13.00, but employer representatives argued that the formula should remain the same so that employers can better absorb the cost of labour and deal with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The committee has recommended a review of the current approach to setting the minimum wage.
A pandemic predicament
On Tuesday, Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the minimum wage should be increased to $15.
“A small increase in the minimum wage, as proposed by this Liberal government, is insulting to those who have been making minimum wage while working on the frontlines of the pandemic,” Burrill said in a statement.
The pandemic has led to reduced hours and closed doors at businesses across Nova Scotia.
The review committee report states that while overall Nova Scotia job loss has recovered from April lows, the retail trade and the food and accommodation industries continue to lag with a net 7,100 and 5,000 job losses, respectively.
Anisa Francoeur, a Dartmouth bartender, said these reduced hours are exactly the reason the minimum wage should increase to $15.
“I’m just getting by right now with two shifts a week because of COVID,” said Francoeur, who was making minimum wage up until recently.
“We’re frontline workers as well. We’re out there, we’re serving, we’re out in COVID, taking care of you. Why not make it $15 an hour?”
About the author
Darrell Roberts is a student journalist from St. John's. He enjoys reading and writing about the latest in culture and politics.