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Brian Jones: Minimum wage announcement falls far short

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the minimum wage will increase to $11.15 an hour April 1. Compare that to British Columbia, where there are plans to bring in a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the minimum wage will increase to $11.15 an hour April 1. Compare that to British Columbia, where there are plans to bring in a $15-an-hour minimum wage. — 123RF Stock Photo

Thanks to Premier Dwight Ball and his Liberals, Newfoundland will be spared the anger and acrimony that has recently plagued Ontario regarding decent pay for fast-food workers and other minimum-wage earners.

Brian Jones
Brian Jones

 

There will be no 15 bucks an hour in Dwight’s domain. The honchos at the St. John’s Board of Trade, the N.L. Employers’ Council, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, et al. can rest their heads on their pillows at night in serene contentment, comforted by the knowledge they are not being exploited by their employees.

Of course, it is as yet unknown what kind of tremors will shake Newfoundland’s economy when the 15-cent increase in the minimum wage takes effect on April Fool’s Day. That’s right — April Fool’s Day. And to think some people insist the Liberals are clowns who don’t have a clue what they’re doing.

This week, Ball’s cabinet pal Al Hawkins announced the province’s minimum wage will rise to $11.15 per hour.

Why $11.15? Never mind, for now, the arguments about paying people poverty-level wages. Why not, say, $11.25? At least it is rounded off to a quarter. It would also be consistent with the last two increases in the province’s minimum wage, each of which were 25 cents.

The cabinet discussion, if there was one, about 15 cents vs. 25 cents must have been mildly interesting.

“If we raise it to $11.25, workers will become lazy with such a high wage.”

“The Employers’ Council will be all over us, again.”

“Somebody get Richard Alexander on the phone, and see if he’s OK with $11.15.”

On the other side of the country, British Columbia’s newish NDP government recently announced that province’s minimum wage will increase to $15.

Some provinces acknowledge the realities of the 21st century, while others opt to stay mired in the 18th (see: Newfoundland, modern peasantry of).

Recent headlines give credence to the view that setting a minimum wage is a social issue, not an economic issue — i.e., it’s not that businesses can’t pay, it’s that they won’t pay.

Various business groups would have you believe a “high” minimum wage threatens the stability and viability of the provincial economy. Mind you, these are the same groups that aren’t bothered a bit by the government blowing $12.7 billion on a monumentally moronic megaproject. Assign credibility to their pronouncements at your own peril.

The halo has dimmed somewhat over the saintly job-producing and job-sustaining business community of late. Recent headlines give credence to the view that setting a minimum wage is a social issue, not an economic issue — i.e., it’s not that businesses can’t pay, it’s that they won’t pay.

Tim Hortons franchisees in Ontario recently displayed a depth of greed and avarice — cutting employees’ benefits and vacation time to counter the rise in the minimum wage — that led to consumer boycotts, and vows by some that they will never again darken a Tim’s drive-thru.

Meanwhile, over at Sears Canada Inc., the minimum wage isn’t an issue — if it ever was — because the company cannibalized itself so it could send billions in dividends to shareholders. Sears pensioners, unhappy at being ripped off, are taking legal action to try to get back some of those looted funds.

“What does that have to do with the minimum wage?” Dwight and Al might ask.

A lot, is the answer. The drive for profits — some might simply say greed — is the real issue regarding the minimum wage, not the oft-cited unaffordability for businesses.

Tim Hortons can’t afford to pay a decent wage? Let me lend you my Economics 101 textbook. It’s from 1977, but it’s still valid.

On Wednesday, Restaurants Canada issued a news release applauding the Liberals.

Ponder the implications of this bizarre quote: “Nearly 75 per cent of minimum-wage earners in the restaurant industry are young people under the age of 25, and well over two-thirds work part-time. In most cases, these individuals live at home, are students or are secondary-income earners.”

Some people simply don’t need or deserve a fair wage, apparently.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at bjones@thetelegram.com.

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