It's time for a raise

Lana Payne
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Back to school. Last week, my daughter went off to start her final year of elementary school.

Sixth grade!

I’m not sure where the time has gone. It seems a blink since we dropped her off for her first day of childcare — a day of tears for me and exploration for her. In that regard not much has changed.

Like a good number of parents, last week I was also rushing around to get last-minute school supplies.

Workwise, I have been contemplating all the multitude of reasons the provincial government should consider raising the wage for the province’s lowest paid employees as it undertakes its mandatory review of minimum wage.

And while shopping for school supplies, those reasons became all that much clearer.

Backpack, lunch bag, pencils, exercise books, protractor, erasers, binder, pens, ruler, sharpener, highlighters, markers, coloured pencils. You’d be hard pressed to get the entire list, even with great shopping skills, for under $50.

For a minimum wage worker in our province earning $10 an hour, that is more than a half a day’s pay.

Thousands of people in our province work for minimum wage or just above. A lot of them are trying to raise families.

What we know about minimum wage workers is the majority are women, over the age of 24 and work full-time.

And, yes, some of them work for small businesses, but many work for large companies.

According to a 2010 Statistics Canada study, while three out of 10 minimum wage workers in Canada worked for firms with fewer than 20 employees, four out of 10 worked for companies with more than 500 employees.

Minimum wage earners last got a pay raise two years ago, in July 2010. In those two years the consumer price index (CPI) continued to erode the value of their pay cheques.

Inflation in 2010 in our province averaged 2.4 per cent, with the cost of shelter and energy as the main drivers. In 2011, CPI averaged 3.4 per cent and again housing — up by 5.8 per cent over the previous year — and energy were the main causes. And in the first three months of 2012, consumers were paying 2.7 per cent more for goods and services than they had during the first quarter of 2011.

While the cost to live continues to grow in our province, low-paid workers have seen their wages eroded in that time frame. Average wages for other workers have increased, but low-paid workers are just not keeping pace.

You can imagine how much worse off lower-paid workers would be had the last provincial government not agreed to deal with the plight of hard-working, low-paid Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Pre-2005, there was no doubt, Newfoundland and Labrador was a low-wage economy. A full 30 per cent of the people who went to work every day earned $10 an hour or less, and 40 per cent of working women did. We had the highest poverty and the lowest wages in the country.

Things have changed. Wages in our provinces are starting to catch up with national averages. Average weekly earnings are growing, partly because of better wages and partly because Newfoundlanders and Labradorians work more hours per week than any other Canadians, with the exception of Albertans who we are tied with.

Economic prosperity brings with it the challenges of plenty and how we continue to share the wealth generated by our economy. And make no mistake, this province is generating unprecedented wealth.

A survey by the Hay Group notes that on average Canadian employees can expect to see their salaries increase by 2.9 per cent next year. It said resource-rich regions Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador will lead the way. The Hay Group predicts wages in this province will go up by an average of 3.4 per cent next year.

The Hay Group based their projections on salary information from about 500 companies.

What this means is unless the provincial government does something to protect lower-paid workers, they will continue to fall behind.

During the last round of increases to the minimum wage, increases that were long overdue and have proved to at least narrow income inequality, the provincial government agreed with advocates to do so based on a number of compelling reasons.

Two years ago, the provincial government said this of their decision to hike the minimum wage to $10 an hour: “This increase is another way the government is improving the quality of life of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and making our province more competitive with respect to attracting talent.”

The government noted that increasing the minimum wage was important to helping families achieve self-reliance and contributes to a stronger provincial economy.

These reasons are just as valid today as they were two years ago.

Perhaps the most compelling reason is even simpler: low-paid workers deserve a pay raise.

Lana Payne is president of the

Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at

Her column returns Sept. 22.

Organizations: Statistics Canada, Hay Group, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Alberta Saskatchewan

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Recent comments

  • a business man
    September 08, 2012 - 11:46

    Margo - I would not willing to live on a minimum wage salary. I knew that when I was 10, so I worked hard in school, good grades. I went to university and then wen to law school and business school. Now I make 6 figures and pay 6 figures in taxes to our government(s). That said, I am the boss of my company. Every year, we make record profits, and every year, I tell my unskilled uneducated workers that they are not getting a rise because they are just telemarketers. I tell them if they want a raise, they should approach me for a reference letter and time off to find a better job. The job I provide is a dead end job for uneducated unskilled people, and I make this clear upfront. Then I have bonuses and raises to engineers, IT people, marketing execs, and management. They are skilled, they are educated, so they get high wages. Simply put, regardless of how high profits are, it is my position that unskilled uneducated workers are worth nothing more than minimum wage. Further, I argue that any company that has unskilled uneducated workers are part of the workforce should look into moving these jobs to a right to work state. Wages are just over $7/hour, and the workers are happy to have the job. This is for better than NFLDers who think they deserve more than the minimum wage just because they say so. Sure inflation may be going up, but some people here are not clearly stating what THEY are doing to bring more value to their employer that justifies a raise. This is why I most of my businesses out of NFLD, and this is why I encourage others to do the same.

  • Jerome
    September 08, 2012 - 11:12

    What do minimum wage earners contribute to our economy? I would argue, plenty. Those who can't afford Florida vacations, save for a year to take their families to Splash-n-Putt, the Northern Bay Sands, etc. Minimum wage earners are, for the most part, keeping our local get-away locations in business. People who make 60 or 70 thousand dollars a year or more,are not frequenting the local summer vacation spots, than those with very limited incomes. Even those who talk about "Stay-cations", seek out some far-away bay they have often thought of visiting. The minimum wage earner on the North East Avalon, (where most of us reside) can't afford a trip to Gros Morne or Lance Aux Meadows. Gander is the farthest west most will be able to take. The thing is, every stop they make will be a contribution to the local economy. Please, don't denigrate those who are surviving on minimum wage, but instead thank them for what they are contributing to our economy.

  • Too Funny
    September 08, 2012 - 09:34

    Inflation eroding wages is not limited to minimum age earners. It's happening to everyone. But take a look back further than the convenient last two years. Over the last ten years inflation rose 10% but Minimum wages rose 80%. In that case, it could be argued that the minimum wage does not need to increase for several years. Is that true? It just shows that anyone can get the statistic they want by carefully picking the right time periods.

    • Margo
      September 08, 2012 - 09:53

      So you would be willing to live in a minium wage salary? Go tell your boss.

    • Craig Dyer
      September 08, 2012 - 10:53

      Thanks for input TOO FUNNY, your right stats are stats…….but you need to look at the stats to understand them. 80% of NEXT TO NOTHING is NOTHING. So they got 80% over the pass 10 years not a lot of money in their pockets. Obliviously you have a very narrow scope on the big picture, the Rich get Richer and the poor are denied the opportunity for a fair days pay for a fair days work. I don’t recall lot news articles of businesses closing because of a raise in the minimum wage in the past decade. But I do recall a lot of complaining from business owners and big business. Everybody wins when these minimum wage jobs get a raise. Their quality of life improves, the economy improves, and recruitment and retention improves. On that note I have noticed a lot of Major Chains advertising part and full time jobs…….why do they have such a high turnover I ask…… the answer is simple MINIMUM WAGE and no benefits…….Just my 2 cents, cheers and have a good day Craig Dyer

    • Karl Marx
      September 08, 2012 - 15:04

      ..and that, ladies and gentlemen, is how capitalism works.

    • The Swoosh Award
      September 09, 2012 - 20:21

      And the finalists for this year's Swoosh Award (for missing the point) is down to Margo and Craig Dyer. Margo for thinking that only people on minimum wage should have a right to voice an opinion and Craig for failing to understand high school algebra.