Saskatchewan is on track to have the lowest minimum wage in Canada come April following a significant increase to New Brunswick’s wage earlier this week.
New Brunswick announced it would boost its minimum wage from $11.75 to $12.75, then up again in October to $13.75.
The Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry said through talking with people who are struggling financially, it’s clear that Saskatchewan’s $11.81 wage isn’t enough.
“We need to have a minimum wage that’s an actual living wage. The starting point that we’ve been calling for is 15 dollars an hour, but even 15 dollars an hour falls below what’s been calculated as a living wage,” Peter Gilmer, an advocate with the anti-poverty ministry, said.
Gilmer added the 15 dollar per hour mark does not take recent inflation rates into account.
“Recently, the cost of basic needs including food has been rising very rapidly,” he said. “[Saskatchewan] is consistently competing for the lowest minimum wage in the country and that does cause considerable hardship.”
Gilmer said low minimum wage ties into other poverty issues that are persistent in Saskatchewan.
“When we legislate a low minimum wage, when we legislate income assistance rates that don’t meet basic needs, we’re indexing poverty and we’re legislating poverty,” he said.
In addition to a higher minimum wage, Gilmer said adequate income assistance benefits and quality and affordable housing and child care options would all go a long way in terms of poverty reduction.
A significant increase to minimum wage isn’t welcomed by everyone.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) said many small businesses in the province are still feeling the financial burden of COVID-19.
Kathleen Cook, a senior policy analyst with CFIB, said many small businesses already pay their employees more than minimum wage if they are able to. She said a lower tax burden from the province could be once way to help employers pay a higher wage.
“A significant jump like we saw in New Brunswick would just not be feasible for many small businesses, so I think it’s important for the Saskatchewan government to consult with the small business community before implementing any change,” Cook said.
The Government of Saskatchewan said each increase to the minimum wage is calculated based on its minimum wage formula which gives equal weight to the percentage change in the provincial Average Hourly Wage and the Consumer Price Index for the previous years as published by Statistics Canada.
“We’ve had, for the last decade, a highly predictable formula,” Don Morgan, minister of labour relations, said. “We’re in a challenging time in the nation and in our province. We’re coming out of COVID-19 and we don’t want to do anything that puts a damper on the viability of businesses that are trying to work, so it’s something we’re going to maintain the stability.”
The minimum wage increased by 36 cents on Oct. 1, 2021.