Wages far from level

Unionized Newfoundland and Labrador trades trail the country in wages: StatsCan

Tobias Romaniuk tobias.romaniuk@gmail.com
Published on April 30, 2012
High consumer confidence and low interest rates boosted housing prices in St. John’s this year, according to a new report from Royal LePage. — Telegram file photo

Steve and Michelle Galway left Newfoundland  to work in Alberta about four years ago, and

while they’d both like to return home, it just isn’t worth it.

“If I could make the same money that I make out here I’d be home in a second,” says Steve. But that isn’t the case.

Statistics Canada has released a comparison of unionized skilled trades wages across the country, and the results show that while wages have risen in Newfoundland, they are still significantly lower than the rest of the country.

In fact, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are the only places that pay lower than Newfoundland.

“Do I go home and survive, or do I stay here and have a life?” asks Steve.

So far, the answer has been to stay in Alberta and enjoy the freedom that comes with earning more money.

 

It was the low wages at home that originally drove them west, said Michelle. The two had recently graduated classes in carpentry and were working as first year apprentices.

“We left because we weren’t making enough money. I was making $12 an hour when I left Newfoundland,” said Michelle.

When the couple arrived in Alberta, Michelle found a job with a home building company and started at $6 per hour more than she was making in Newfoundland.

The Galway’s story is one that many Newfoundlanders could tell, and one that is all too familiar to those left looking for workers at home.

Dave Wade, executive director of the Building and Construction Trades Council, said the westward migration of skilled trades people is a direct reason of the trades shortage in Newfoundland.

“The shortages that we currently have are because people are currently working elsewhere,” he said.

The council is working to bridge the wage gap, and while they’ve made some progress, there is still a ways to go, said Wade.

“Each major project we try to step up a rung on the ladder,” he said.

The result has been carpenters working on Long Harbour projects now receiving $29 an hour plus wage benefits, bringing the rate to near the $32 an hour mark.

But even those wages, among the best in the province, are lower than what an similarly skilled worker could make in Alberta.

The fight to wage rages to be competitive with the rest of the country are met with opposition, with some people fearing the work will dry up if wages are raised.

“There’s a lot of people in the province who are making a pitch that we shouldn’t be driving the cost of construction up,” said Wade.

But that argument isn’t something he agrees with, and will only lead to a continuing worker shortage, he said.

At one time, the argument could be made that living in Newfoundland was cheaper than living out west, but with a recent rise in housing costs and the increase in consumer goods prices, that just isn’t true anymore, said Carol Furlong, the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Public and Private Employees union (NAPE).

“There might have been a time when that was the case, but you can’t hide behind that anymore,” she said.

The problem of wage inequality is something NAPE has been trying to raise awareness about.

“We’ve raised that red flag numerous times,” she said.

If the gap isn’t closed, the exodus will continue, she said.

“It will mean people will leave the province.”

Or, in the case of Steve and Michelle Galway, it means people who want to return home will instead stay away until they can afford the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to.

“I’d love to be back home, but financially we can’t go home,” said Michelle. “Ya, I’d love to go home.”

To see the differences in wages between Newfoundland and other provinces, visit the Statistics Canada page here: http://tinyurl.com/7sh82bt

To see wage rates for different trades or time periods, click on the ‘add/remove data’ tab.

The wages displayed are for unionized trades. Details are available in the footnotes.

St. John’s

Basic construction union hourly rates as of March 2012

Carpenter     $28.29

Crane operator     $24.00

Electrician     $31.32

Labourer     $25.12

Plumber     $33.19

Reinforcing steel erector    $29.52

Heavy equipment operator    $23.01

Edmonton

Basic construction union hourly rates as of March 2012

Carpenter     $38.63

Crane operator     $41.69

Electrician     $44.34

Labourer     $33.70

Plumber     $42.29

Reinforcing steel erector    $35.02

Heavy equipment operator         $39.49

tobias.romaniuk@thetelegram.com