The NWT’s minimum wage has surpassed $15 an hour.

As of Sept. 1, the territory’s minimum hourly wage increased by $1.74 – from $13.46 to $15.20 – becoming the second highest of any province or territory in Canada behind Nunavut.

In a March 11 statement, Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) Minister R.J. Simpson announced the wage increase would strike “a balance between maintaining fair and competitive wage rates while encouraging economic activity and supporting small businesses.”

“By providing workers across the territory with a minimum wage more suitable to the cost of living, and businesses the option to attract more workers for minimum wage positions – I am confident that this increase will benefit both NWT workers and businesses,” he continued.

Jordan Crosby, the manager of Overlander Sports, said he had already been paying his employees above the minimum to retain his workers and motivate them to work harder.

“I don’t start anyone at minimum wage, whether they’re full-time or part-time,” he said. “It’s tough living here in the North. Everyone is aware of what the cost of living is and on top of that

If you want staff to stick around, minimum wage is a sure way to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

The territory’s minimum wage is reviewed every two years. It was last increased in 2018 and the cost of living has increased since that time, according to ECE.

“We want our staff to be able to be committed to the store,” said Crosby. “And at the same time, maybe not worry about working multiple jobs. We find that by investing in our staff and the employees here, we can see how invested they are in their work and their everyday tasks.”

“I would also say that I do feel that I have an expectation of the staff,” he continued. “So sometimes I feel minimum wage might signal minimum effort and I don’t want that.”

Resurgent coronavirus turning downtown into a ghost town, causing economic misery

Seiji Suzuki, owner of Sushi North, noted that many local businesses, especially small downtown businesses, are being hurt by a lack of traffic and the increased cost of products – though labour costs have not been a problem.

“Right now, coronavirus numbers are going up,” he said. “Government and everybody is working from their houses. Everything is online and tourism is down, so in the downtown, no one is there, no one the last couple days, so that’s really surprising at this time.”

“Employers, they’re going to have a real hard time I think,” he continued.

Suzuki said he’s doing everything he can to offer the same fees he has maintained for the last few years but as costs and wages go up, prices may need to follow.

“That’s all we can do,” he said. “You go in the grocery store, you buy a few things and everything has gone up.”

“We’ve been having the same prices for the past few years but profits are getting less and less,” he continued. “The only thing we can do is increase prices. We don’t have plans to do that right now but maybe in the near future we’ll be changing them.”

Rami Kassem, the owner of Javaroma, also said the minimum wage increase will not affect his business “because we always paid way more than minimum wage.

“Nine years ago, we started paying $15 an hour, so it doesn’t affect us at all,” he said.

Conversely, the coronavirus is turning downtown into a ghost town, causing economic misery, he noted.

As opposed to several of Yellowknife’s shops that might enjoy deep pockets, corporate names and drive-thru service, which are valuable things during a pandemic, he said, the increasing cost of goods and the coronavirus have caused massive suffering among small businesses, especially downtown.

“Everything has gone sky-high,” he said. “The prices of the produce, from coffee, to cheese, to eggs to everything.”

Before the pandemic Javorama had 16 employees. It is now down to eight and has reduced hours at both its locations, he said.

“You have dreams, you wanted to open more locations and serve more people and you have a brand name and everything. And then you build your dream, and suddenly you see it collapsing in front of you. And that was an April 2020,” he said.

“We had another outbreak starting last week, and we are back to April 2020,” he continued. “You can’t cover your expenses, you start putting in your own equity and I don’t know how long we’re going to stay operating.”

Kassem said he “hopes people will listen,” and start supporting home-grown community businesses, noting he’s offering online options and delivery.

“I mean, this is the time,” he said. “We are struggling and we are community places, not just Javorama, it’s all the businesses.”

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