by Jack Bourassa
Robots invading, jobs and businesses dying, total income declining, prices skyrocketing. How the conservative business interests of this country love to spread fear among workers.
I’ve used this space in the past half year to defend the interests of lower-income workers and the need for the GNWT to ensure that people earning a minimum wage can afford to live here. January’s announcement for this April’s minimum wage increase to $13.46 is unsatisfactory because it will not come close to meeting the serious cost of living challenges faced by Northern workers. Nor does it do much to close the gap with the calculated Living Wage released by Alternatives North in November – $22.24 per hour.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada North began working on a campaign at the beginning of the year calling for all territorial governments to adopt a $15 per hour minimum wage across the board. Since then and after much consultation we have made the decision that rather than stop at $15, we can and should do more.
As such, we have made the decision to adjust our focus and push for the territorial governments to raise the minimum wage over the immediate coming years toward a wage that matches the Living Wage. Our updated position is one that presents our territory with a greater challenge, but one that is achievable. We feel such an increase will benefit the North and more importantly provide the compensation that Northern workers need and deserve.
We have been watching in recent months the reaction to minimum wage increases in other jurisdictions – most notably in Ontario and Seattle. What we have seen is excessive fearmongering by opponents with the familiar dire warnings of laid off workers, reduced hours and benefits, increased automation, and skyrocketing prices. Next to none of these negative predictions have come true. In fact, quite the opposite has happened as was eluded to in the recent Labour Force Study conducted by Scotiabank.
Similar negative predictions by the business community have been made since 2014 in Seattle, Wash., when that city decided to make gradual increases toward $15 per hour by 2021. Again, the doom & gloom predictions have been laid to dust as the city’s economy has steadily shown signs of growth. A study by the University of Washington similarly showed that Seattle’s overall wages, low-wage employment, and the number of hours worked all increased following the minimum wage increase.
While provinces like Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia push ahead toward a $15 per hour minimum wage, the same wage increase – if gradually implemented in the North – would barely keep us on pace with the rest of the country in the coming years.
When workers in southern provinces have the ability to earn such a high wage, why would they come North? How can we afford not to compensate workers fairly and competitively where the costs of living are highest in the country? Premier Bob McLeod has advocated in the past for the need to attract workers to the North, increased transfer payments from Ottawa and with them their money to invest. How can that be accomplished if the cost of living remains high while the minimum wage remains low?
This is why we are calling on the governments of Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon to be more progressive thinking with the minimum wage increase. The fearmongering that has led to the hesitant and meagre increase of $13.46 per hour in the NWT has not proven true elsewhere and will not prove true here.
A minimum wage that is a Living Wage will lead to a fairer and prosperous North and will give the jolt that we need to our economy from the bottom up. The writing is on the wall and the rest of Canada will be moving to a $15 minimum wage. For our territorial governments to simply seek parity with those living South of 60 is shameful. Poverty is real as is the need for a Living Wage!