Minimum wage needs to be hiked

Gerry Phelan
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I don’t know how they do it. I’m talking about people trying to make ends meet on the minimum wage.

Ten bucks an hour doesn’t go far. There’s no need for a calculator; the numbers are too small. At $10 an hour, and a 40-hour week, the gross is about $1,600 a month. Subtract taxes, EI, CPP, in some cases health benefits and, well, the take-home pay isn’t very much, especially in our hot economy.

A quick check of the classifieds shows many two-bedroom apartments in the St. John’s area are going for $700 to $800 per month. Let’s add the costs for electricity and food.  

There is something wrong when $5.99 is the lowest price for a bag of apples. We may pay $2 for a head of lettuce and more than that for a loaf of bread.

I’ve already spent an hour of minimum wage pay, and there’s nothing on the sandwich yet.

The minimum wage increased from $6 per hour to $10 per hour between 2005 and 2010. The hike was badly needed and long overdue.

Now we have until mid-September to tell the government what should happen in the coming months and years.

I’m among those pushing for a reasonable increase, but hopefully the advisory committee will canvass the research and come up with other suggestions, as well.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business wants the government to hold the line on minimum wage increases and look instead at making changes to personal income tax.

They say this province has the second lowest basic personal exemption in the country.

Perhaps the government should once again raise the amount people can earn before paying taxes.

A group called the Make Work Pay Coalition made the case in 2008 that future increases to the minimum wage should be tied to the average wage increase in the province, or inflation, whichever is higher.

The idea may have merit. It’s been two years since those at the lowest end of the pay scale had an increase. Back then, we had the second highest provincial minimum wage in the country. Now we have to play catchup again.

Our current minimum wage is similar to that of most other provinces, with Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia among those offering a minimum wage that is slightly higher. Manitoba’s rate will also soon surpass the $10-per-hour mark. Things change quickly.  

We hear the same pro and con arguments every time the minimum wage is reviewed.

For some, it’s a social justice issue, for others a matter of economics.

Once the minimum wage goes up, employers feel pressure to increase wages for other employees as well.

I’ve seen it happen in the retail sector. If one employee gets a 50-cent-an-hour increase because of government regulation, it’s a tough sell to tell their co-workers they don’t deserve more, too.

As wages go up, so do other employer contributions, all of that eating potential profit and having a possible negative impact on job creation.

Still, if employees don’t have a living wage, those lower-paying positions may be difficult to fill.

I have visited several places in the U.S. and on the mainland where takeouts and retail outlets had reduced hours because they couldn’t get employees to fill the available jobs.  

The debate should never be about the kind of jobs that pay the minimum wage. Some positions require more training and skill; others more toil and patience.

We all depend on the services these workers provide. This is about being fair to the employee and the employer.

Government has a bigger role to play than dictating the hourly scale. It can help foster a culture of prosperity, with incentives for people and businesses to reach higher, whether through training, tax changes or other measures.

I’m confident the advisory committee will recommend some kind of increase, but their mandate also includes observations and findings on the issue. I hope they add some outside-the-box ideas for the future, as well.

Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster. He can be reached at

Organizations: Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Make Work Pay Coalition

Geographic location: Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia Manitoba U.S.

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Recent comments

  • Jace
    August 07, 2013 - 20:13

    M...You must be a right wing troll. Some of the hardest jobs, the ones toughest on the body are minimum wage. Also, there are plenty of educated people, who are "trained and inspired" who cannot find work in the fields they trained in. Get a grip, man.

  • acme
    September 10, 2012 - 07:08

    here in Australia minimum wage p/h is $15.50. but still people don't wanna work if u offer $15.5 per hour...they say its too low,,,only who are desperate of job they work for 15.5...and on the weekend the employer should pay +75 % on saturday and double on sunday per hour....Canada should have minimum wage atleast $14 p/ people can save some money...

  • willy
    August 19, 2012 - 00:56

    Sean what did you go to M.U.N. for certainly wasn't because of your intelligence because anyone that writes what you wrote is a very ignorant man!! I drive a cab and I laugh at your $20 an hour suka!!

  • Conrad
    August 17, 2012 - 15:58

    Yeah ok, lets everyone get a university degree, its not like we need non skilled workers and labourers. All that stuff will get done on it own. It well be great, everyone will be paid well and nobody will have to work hard or get dirty anymore. Wonder why we never thought of that before. Guess all them mun grads are about to change the world.

  • Anonymous
    August 17, 2012 - 13:01

    Minimum wage increases don't drive inflation nor do they drive up the cost of living. Inflation is caused by a FIAT fractional reserve banking system which requires infinite growth but can't achieve it because of limited resources. (e.g oil, copper, airable land, water) droughts across the US have already drove food prices up 4 percent as everything we eat is made from corn or corn byproducts. This is only going to get worse as other crops such as soy and wheat suffer across the continent. Minimum wage isn't the problem. The only thing left to blame is the attitudes of employers such as wal mart or Mc Donalds who only pay the absolute minimum wage they can or only just above itt when really a 2-3 dollar per hour increase is a pittance of a bite from their profit margins. So why don't they do it? Minimum shouldn't be confused with mandatory and we need to start talking about how money works before the system we have now breaks completely.

    • I'm in shock
      August 19, 2012 - 18:16

      Thanks for posting a sensible, intelligent comment. There might be hope for us yet!

  • Sean
    August 17, 2012 - 09:56

    As mentioned before, raising the minimum wage would raise the prices of everything else, and the minimum wage will have to be raised again and again to keep up. I didn't go to MUN for four years to get a @20/hour job when someone that wears PJs in the daytime can stay at home out around the bay and work at some corner store and drive a sunfire and wear a baseball cap and bayman chain with their ski-doo jackets and talk about how drunk they are going to get when they finally get their $1000 from having a kid. If you want to make more than $10 an hour, get an education and put on some pants.

  • NowIsee
    August 17, 2012 - 09:21

    Please, min wage goes up so does everything else. Your logic makes no sense. How much should someone stocking shelves make? $15/hr We'll be paying $6 for a 2Ltr of milk and $1000 for a 1 bed room basement apt. by this logic. If anything, min wage should go down.

    • Simple question
      August 17, 2012 - 09:41

      So, would you be willing to work for [less than] minimum wage or are you exempt?

    • NowIsee
      August 17, 2012 - 09:56

      Yes that would be fair of course. Everyone who has gone to MUN and worked for the last 30 years should make less than min wage. Do you have any more simplistic questions you want answered?

    • Better question
      August 17, 2012 - 10:00

      Are you willing to see your bills rise?

    • simple question
      August 17, 2012 - 14:02

      So I'll take that as a 'no.' This may come as a shock to you, but people working for minimum wage also have bills, food, and rent to pay, and their taxes paid for you to go to MUN. If everyone had the opportunity to go to university went, who would be left to staff the checkout lines, stock the shelves, serve you your coffee etc? @Sean: did you get your degree in advanced snobbery with a minor in ignorance? People working for minimum wage don't have the luxury of staying home all day or wearing pajamas, let alone drive a Sunfire. I have had the good fortune of being able to go to university (coming from a middle class family and being academically inclined) and have received several degrees. I know who paid for my education and I respect those who, although they didn't have those opportunities, play a vital role in the health of our economy and community.

  • M
    August 17, 2012 - 08:35

    Gerry, You are a former broadcaster but you are definitely not an economist or a friend to seniors. What do you think happens when you increase minimum wage? People who sell services experience an increase in wage expenses (almost 70% in the last 8 years) which they have to make up in revenue. They increase the price of goods to reflect this. Working people the have the ability to deal with these increases by working longer hours or negotiating more wage. However, our seniors (except our friends in the Federal Civil Service with their gold plated indexed pensions;perhaps you are one?) have no real ability to increase their incomes. They have worked their entire lives only to get driven to poverty by legislated inflation. Best to leave this minimum wage where it is and let employees and employers sort out what people get paid. Jobs that require minimum skill and effort will get paid a minimum amount. Jobs that require more or are in a competitive environment will pay more. Let's try and give our squeezed seniors a break for a change instead of trying to prop up the untrained and uninspired.