Labour advocates are calling on the province to follow New Brunswick’s lead by hiking Manitoba’s "embarrassing" minimum wage.
The PC government of New Brunswick announced last week it would raise New Brunswick’s $11.75 minimum wage — the lowest in Canada — by $2 next year. That means Manitoba will drop to second-last, at $11.95 per hour, with Saskatchewan having the lowest minimum wage in the country ($11.81 per hour). Nunavut ($16 an hour) has the highest.
New Brunswick Labour Minister Trevor Holder said having Canada’s lowest minimum wage is "downright embarrassing." The increases will come in two increments of one dollar, on April 1 and Oct. 1.
"Having the second-lowest wage is pretty damn embarrassing," said Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour. "When people work full time and still live in poverty — and that is the reality for thousands of workers and Manitobans — that needs to change."
In 2020, the living wage for a Winnipeg two-parent, two-child family increased by $1.61 to $16.15 per hour — up 11.1 per cent from $14.54 per hour in 2016, according to calculations by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in Manitoba.
It factors in the hourly rate at which a household can meet its basic needs once government transfers have been added to the family’s income. Over that same time period, expenses went up 12.5 per cent from 2016, almost double the increase in inflation during the same period, its data show.
Neither Premier Heather Stefanson nor Finance Minister Scott Fielding’s offices responded to a request for comment.
Manitoba’s minimum wage, which is indexed to inflation, increased five cents to $11.95 per hour on Oct. 1. The annual increase reflects the 2020 inflation rate of 0.5 per cent. The province has said indexing Manitoba’s minimum wage to inflation gives businesses predictability in terms of wage costs and ensures the purchasing power of the minimum wage is maintained.
Critics say it keeps Manitobans in poverty.
"The PC government is… indexing (the minimum wage) to a poverty wage," said NDP Leader Wab Kinew. "They’re keeping it artificially low. It’s not a living wage," he said.
"Nobody in Manitoba should have to live in poverty when they work full time," he said. "That’s why there should be a substantive increase to the minimum wage here."
Manitoba’s low minimum wage was "embedded in law" by former premier Brian Pallister, Rebeck said.
"They scripted legislation that locks our minimum wage in at poverty wages forever and at best keeps pace with inflation," the labour leader said. "They like to say ‘we depoliticized it,’" Rebeck said, referring to Manitoba’s PC government. "That’s ridiculous. What they’ve done is institutionalize poverty-level wages, and that needs to change and that needs new legislation."
— with files from The Canadian Press
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.