Labour Day thought: raise the minimum wage

Published on August 29, 2014

Labour Day is a celebration of workers. For me, it remains an important day on the calendar, both as a celebration of what has been achieved and a reminder that there is still work to be done.

The day is certainly a celebration by, for, and of, members of unions and other organized labour groups. In St. John’s, for example, NDP MHAs and other members join with the District Labour Council for the afternoon festivities.

But in addition to celebrating the ongoing solidarity of the broader movement, and reminding ourselves of the victories both recent and from years past, we also take note of the progress we have yet to make and the struggles that remain.

In the past year, for example, we were very happy to see government enact the whistleblower legislation we have been demanding since 2007, when a PC premier first promised it.

The legislation may not be perfect, and it isn’t everything we wanted, but it is a major step forward.

We continue to speak up for workers’ health and safety in numerous areas, ranging from helicopter flights to presumptive cancers.

Our most extensive campaign right now, launched in April of this year, is for fairness for the lowest-paid workers in the province.

In this, we have had enormous support from our brothers and sisters in organized labour.

Nobody understands more than a union member the importance of paying fair wages.

Newfoundland and Labrador workers who earn the minimum wage have not received an increase since 2010.

Nobody reading this letter needs me to tell them what has happened with the prices of groceries, electricity and other necessities in the past four years.

Government appointed a review committee to make recommendations, then proceeded to ignore all the recommendations from its own committee.

The NDP introduced a private member’s motion asking government to adopt the recommendations, and both Liberal and Tory MHAs voted down the motion.

In May, we launched a petition to bring the question to the people of the province.

We will bring that petition to the House of Assembly when it re-opens this fall, and we will see if the thousands of signatures will change the minds of the MHAs in the other two parties.

It is impossible to exaggerate the great reception that petition has received from the people of the province.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians understand basic fairness, and they know that it is not fair for working people to be unable to afford the necessities of life.

One business operator in one of our smaller towns said to me, “Sure, why wouldn’t I sign it? Yes, I’m an employer, but my employees and I buy our groceries at the same store. I know what they’re dealing with.”

Our caucus is hosting a town hall on the minimum wage Tuesday, Sept. 9 at St. Teresa’s Parish Hall on Mundy Pond Road in St. John’s.

We invite anyone who is able to come and share their stories and give us their opinions.

Happy Labour Day!

Lorraine Michael

Newfoundland and Labrador NDP leader