Business, labour groups divided on new minimum wage

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Business and labour groups in Manitoba can’t agree on what the new provincial minimum wage should be, with a government announcement expected within the next two weeks.

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Business and labour groups in Manitoba can’t agree on what the new provincial minimum wage should be, with a government announcement expected within the next two weeks.

After passing legislation June 1 to hike the minimum wage to keep pace with the high rate of inflation, the province tasked its labour management review committee with forming a recommendation. However, members couldn’t reach a consensus.

The side representing business recommended a new minimum wage of between $13 and $14 an hour, while labour called for $16.15/hr, saying it is required for a living wage in Manitoba.

MIKE SUDOMA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Kevin Rebeck, President of Manitoba Federation of Labour: ‘Workers are feeling the pinch of the price increases we’re dealing with at the grocery store and gas pumps — especially those making minimum wage.’

If the Progressive Conservative government intends to raise the minimum wage above the legislated 40 cent increase to $12.35 due to take effect Oct. 1, it has to announce it by Sept. 1.

A spokesman for Labour Minister Reg Helwer said the government is still consulting with “stakeholders,” and is preparing to release more information “soon.”

“It’s important that the minimum wage keeps Manitoba attractive to newcomers as a place to work, live and raise families,” an email from Ross Romaniuk said. “This is among the many factors to be considered as we chart a path forward for Manitoba’s minimum wage in the short and long term.”

Business leaders involved wouldn’t specify a recommended minimum wage, but said it would probably be the highest hourly increase in the province’s history.

“It’s a significant increase,” said Manitoba Chambers of Commerce president and chief executive officer Chuck Davidson.

Manitoba’s minimum wage is currently $11.95/hr and was on track to be the lowest in Canada despite the Oct. 1 bump to $12.35/hr, when Saskatchewan hikes its minimum to $13/hr.

Davidson said Manitoba needs to balance having a competitive minimum wage, while recognizing employers have struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic and other economic challenges. “We’re trying to look at it from the perspective of what business has been through over the last two years.”

Because of labour shortages, most employers are already having to pay their employees above the current minimum wage, he said.

Whatever the province decides, it should announce the new minimum wage as soon as possible, so employers can prepare for it, he added. “The more notice we can give business, the better.”

It is a stance echoed by the labour side.

“The sooner, the better,” said Manitoba Federal of Labour president Kevin Rebeck.

Employees and employers both need to know what to expect, said Rebeck who chairs the review committee’s labour caucus.

“Not knowing what the minimum wage is going to be is causing a lot of angst,” he said Tuesday. “Workers are feeling the pinch of the price increases we’re dealing with at the grocery store and gas pumps — especially those making minimum wage.”

Labour recommended $16.15/hr, as the amount a full-time minimum-wage worker needs to live in Manitoba, Rebeck said.

Meantime, the NDP’s labour critic accused the Tory government of “stalling” when it comes to the minimum wage.

“They’ve had more than enough time for consultation,” said Tom Lindsey.

The government introduced legislation May 30 that provides a workaround to the 2017 Minimum Wage Indexation Act. That piece of PC premier Brian Pallister-era legislation indexed annual minimum-wage increases to the previous year’s Consumer Price Index for Manitoba.

As a result, minimum wage has lagged behind inflation. In June, it climbed to 9.4 per cent in Manitoba. The legislated 40-cent increase Oct. 1 is based on the 2021 yearly inflation rate of 3.4 per cent.

Last year’s minimum wage increase was just five cents because the 2020 inflation rate was 0.5 per cent.

The new PC bill passed June 1 enables the minimum wage to be increased by an additional amount when the inflation rate in Manitoba exceeds five per cent in the first three months of the year. The increase must be announced 30 days before it takes effect (sometime between Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 of that year).

If minimum wage increases by additional amount, cabinet can decide not to raise it again the following year, the bill says.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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