Province commits to 40 cent minimum wage increase
Nova Scotia to hike minimum wage to $13.35 in April; rate could reach $15 by 2024
January 13, 2022, 7:15 pm ASTLast Updated: January 13, 2022, 9:50 pm
Nova Scotia’s minimum wage is about to increase.
At a videoconference following Thursday’s cabinet meeting, Premier Tim Houston declared his support for a 40 cent increase, following a report submitted by the province’s minimum wage review committee.
The change takes effect April 1, bringing Nova Scotia’s minimum wage from $12.95 to $13.35 an hour.
“We always look at what’s in front of us and I think the committee has done the work,” Houston said on Thursday.
According to the report, 8.1 per cent of Nova Scotia’s workforce (31,400 people) work for minimum wage. Of this group, 62.1 per cent are property renters who struggle to make ends meet.
The report also recommended an average annual increase of 55 cents, with the goal of reaching a $15 minimum wage by 2024. The province has not reached an official verdict on that idea.
“Governments should always come down on the side of respecting (committee) recommendations,” Houston added. “We’ll take a short bit of time to listen to Nova Scotians from across the province on their thoughts, but my inclination is not to undermine them.”
Although provincial NDP leader Gary Burrill is happy to see the increase, he expressed frustration over Houston’s unwillingness to immediately make the minimum wage $15.
“The benchmark has been clearly laid out in this report,” he said. “It’s $15. The government has the capacity to implement this. They should do so immediately.”
Burrill said his party has emphasized the minimum wage as an issue since 2016, but he believes recent inflation makes the situation dire.
“With the dramatic increase in prices, particularly in groceries, there are an awful lot of frontline workers who are working for minimum wage who are seeing the ability to support their households slipping between their fingers,” he said.
Burrill backed his claim with the 2021 news report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which found living wage rates in Nova Scotia ranged from $18.45 to $22.05 per hour.
“What we need to be talking about now is a floor of $15 immediately and then having all of this discussion about moving to a living wage,” he said. “How can we move from a minimum wage to an actual living wage of 19 or 20 dollars? That’s the leadership the government needs to bring.”
Halifax employees are also hoping to see the government institute a $15 minimum wage sooner rather than later. Douglas Carr, 23, said he would feel more confident in the government’s ability to present change if this happened.
Carr works two jobs, averaging 60 hours of work per week. While both pay him an hourly wage of $14, he said it’s still a struggle to make ends meet.
“Sometimes I skip meals and even when I buy food, it’s usually not very healthy in the interest of cutting costs,” he said. “I’m completely pessimistic about the situation. No one should have to work more than 40 hours a week to make ends meet.”
Carr added that he hopes to see Nova Scotia follow Ontario’s lead. He refers to the province’s decision to make the minimum wage $15 as of the first of this year. But he doesn’t think it will happen.
“Every government is run by people who don’t have any knowledge of how the lower end of the wage spectrum operates,” he said. “I don’t think they understand how mentally strenuous it is to bounce between jobs, praying you’ll have enough money to have a day off to just sleep.”
Danny Cavanagh, the president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, was on the four-member minimum wage review committee. He agrees with Burrill that the province should commit to a $15 minimum.
“Fifteen dollars is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Cavanagh. “In Nova Scotia, we have rapid rates of poverty and child poverty and family poverty, higher than the rest of the country.”
Nova Scotia has the third-highest rate of child and family poverty in Canada and the highest rate among the Atlantic provinces, according to another 2021 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Cavanagh is concerned that consultation with large business owners could not only slow the gradual increase to $15 but derail it.
But the increase could also pose problems for small business owners. Carrie Surette, the owner of Heartwood restaurant in Halifax, has concerns about the wage increase.
“As a small business, we can’t really afford an increase like this. The numbers can’t just appear.
“When the (minimum wage) increase does happen, we will have to cut some employees. Prices will go up 30 per cent overnight and staff that do remain will have to work longer. It would be hard on everyone,” said Surette.
She added that she isn’t against higher wages and worker support in general, but believes it isn’t fair to put pressure on small businesses. Instead, she’d like to see more government-funded employee benefits and wage subsidies from the province.
Cavanagh sees things differently. “An increase in the minimum wage will actually be good for the economy,” he said.
“We saw that through the recent benefits that were given to workers in many communities. Because they were able to keep a paycheque, they could spend money in the local economies.”
Cavanagh also argued better wages could increase employment and retention rates for businesses.
“The smart employers are going to be on board with this (increase) and want to make sure that they’re training their people decently, that they can provide them with some benefits, and that they can provide them with at least a living wage so they can afford the things that they need for their family.”
Have a story idea? Let us know