Working for $12.35/hour is unworkable

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Call it a rise to the bottom.

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Opinion

Call it a rise to the bottom.

Manitoba has the dubious distinction of having the second-lowest minimum wage in Canada. But as of Oct. 1, the keystone province will officially have the lowest, when it rises to $12.35 per hour from $11.95 per hour.

Contrast that with Saskatchewan, the current province in last place, which will leapfrog over Manitoba by raising minimum wage to $13 from $11.81.

CANADIAN PRESS FILES Manitoba’s minimum wage needs hike.

During a period of historic inflation worsened by sky-high gas prices, many Manitobans are feeling the pinch — especially lower earners who, even when working full time, are struggling to keep their heads above the poverty line. Other Conservative governments, including those in Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick, are raising their minimum wages beyond the inflation index to keep pace with soaring costs of living. Ontario raised its minimum hourly wage to $15 from $14.35 in January, and is planning another 50-cent increase in the fall. New Brunswick rolled out a $1 increase in April and has another $1 increase planned for October, bringing its minimum wage to $13.75 an hour. Saskatchewan’s minimum wage will be $15 by 2024.

These governments recognize unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.

Not Manitoba, though. Manitoba is keeping with the status quo, a decision that has been met with criticism. “You can work full-time in Manitoba on minimum wage and still live in poverty,” Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said. “That’s just not right.” He called for Premier Heather Stefanson’s government to raise the hourly minimum wage to $15, a figure more in line with a living wage in Manitoba, according to the Manitoba Federation of Labour.

There are the usual arguments for and against a minimum wage hike beyond the usual legislated increase. Critics believe that a higher minimum wage would be too hard for small business owners to shoulder; proponents believe that a higher minimum wage would lead to more loyal — and more productive — employees, as well as restore purchasing power to lower earners, money which could then go back into the economy. A living wage, pegged to about $15 an hour — or just over $30,000 a year, before taxes and deductions, based on a 40-hour work week — would also help lift families out of poverty.

Manitoba cannot continue to ignore current realities: soaring inflation following a two-years-and-counting pandemic. The “road to recovery” has rested on the backs of people working in lower-wage jobs — people previously heralded as essential and heroic, only to be forgotten when it comes time to “get back to normal.” And if businesses can only survive by underpaying workers, that strongly suggests our system is broken.

It is worth noting, too, that contrary to stereotypes, minimum-wage jobs aren’t just part-time positions held by teenagers or students. According to Statistics Canada, Manitoba had an average of 31,000 minimum-wage workers between 2016 and 2018, and almost half of those workers were 25 years or older.

Manitobans shouldn’t have to make the non-choice between paying rent and buying groceries. Living in poverty is a grind that leads to poor physical and mental health outcomes.

Again, unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. Manitoba should not be content with being in last place on this file. If there was ever a time to go above and beyond the minimum wage, it’s now.

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