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GUEST COLUMN: Newfoundland and Labrador workers deserve better than poverty wages

Aligning minimum wages across Atlantic Canada holds inherent dangers for P.E.I. workers.
(File Graphic)
- SaltWire Network

By Linda MacNeil

Employers that refuse to offer workers an hourly wage of at least $15 are sentencing their employees to poverty.

The executive director of the Employer’s Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, Richard Alexander, recently called a $15 an hour minimum wage an “extreme policy.”

This couldn’t be further from the truth. The current situation in Newfoundland and Labrador is extreme, and a long-overdue increase to the minimum wage is a common sense, necessary change. N.L. is a mere eight cents away from having the lowest minimum wage in the country.

An inadequate minimum wage disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable populations of workers, including: young workers, seniors, those without post-secondary education, and women. In fact, in NL, over two-thirds (66 per cent) of minimum wage earners are women, which significantly exceeds the Canadian average (58.8 per cent) and can only be a meaningful contributor to the province’s persistent income and wage gap.

Juggernaut retail chains like Loblaws, as well as big box stores and restaurant chains are the worst culprits in keeping workers under the poverty line. In fact, Loblaw Companies Limited CEO, Galen Westin infamously opposed a $15 minimum wage in Ontario, emboldening the Doug Ford government to stall the minimum wage at $14 in the province.

In fact, when Ontario did implement a $14minimum wage in January 2018, the sky did not fall. Employment rates improved and unemployment dropped to 5.4 per cent, the lowest it had been since 2000. In addition, businesses reported increased profits during the first 6 months of the minimum wage increase.

Business, large and small, thrived. And minimum wage workers had a little more income to contribute back into their communities.

Raising the bar for low-wage workers is good for our economy. It helps to alleviate poverty by raising incomes of low-wage workers and their families, reduces pay discrimination and the wage gap, and promotes a healthier population that places less financial pressure on an already overtaxed public health system.

A $15-an-hour minimum wage is not an attack on small business; it’s a demand that corporations share profits with employees, not just with the CEO.

Most corporate CEO’s, including Westin, earn an average Loblaw's employees annual income in a single day. Despite this, and Loblaw’s record-breaking profits of more than 800 million last year, workers at Loblaw stores in N.L. struggle to make enough to get by. We can’t count on big business to put workers’ first, that’s why Dominion workers are organising through their union, to demand better. But the struggle to raise standards in N.L. affects all workers, and it is past time for the provincial government to implement a common sense solution that helps workers and the economy.

If the Ball government wants to serve Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, we need establish a wage floor for everyone that creates a level playing field for business.

Linda MacNeil is the Atlantic Regional Director for Unifor. She writes from Cape Breton, N.S.


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