Raising minimum wage not enough for decent quality of life, critics say » CHMA 106.9 FM

Anti-poverty activist Abram Lutes (left) and small business owner Madison Bragg say raising the minimum wage to $13.75 an hour will not provide workers with a decent standard of living.

New Brunswick’s minimum wage increases by one dollar today to $12.75 an hour. And another increase is scheduled for October, when the minimum wage hits $13.75.

In a video posted to social media this week, Labor Minister Trevor Holder acknowledged that “many New Brunswick families are struggling to cope with the cost of living, and it’s getting worse.”

Until today, New Brunswick had the lowest minimum wage of any province or territory in Canada. Saskatchewan now holds this dubious distinction.

By October, New Brunswick is expected to have the highest minimum wage in the Atlantic region, compared to $13.70 per hour in Prince Edward Island, $13.35 in New -Scotland and $13.20 in Newfoundland and Labrador, depending on the Retail Council of Canada.

That’s a far cry from last year’s widely derided 5-cent increase based on changes to the consumer price index.

At the time, Minister Holder said in a statement the policy would protect “employee purchasing power” while ensuring “predictability for businesses”.

But this year’s biggest increase still falls short of what anti-poverty activists call a living wage.

This amount would be close to $20 an hour in New Brunswick cities, according to calculations by the Saint John Human Development Council.

A living wage measures “the amount a household should earn to cover their basic needs and live in dignity while enjoying a decent quality of life”, as defined by this group.

Louis-Philippe Gauthier, Senior Director of Atlantic Legislative Affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, called the minimum wage a “blunt instrument” for poverty reduction.

CFIB argued that many minimum wage earners are teenagers who live with their parents and do not depend on their wages to survive.

But data from the New Brunswick government indicates that 64 per cent of the roughly 45,000 people affected by increases this year are over the age of 19.

And more than half of those affected are women.

A local entrepreneur – Madison Bragg, owner of Bragg’s Cleaning, based in Sackville — said she wouldn’t be affected by the change because her employees start at $15 an hour, and she thinks paying less is unacceptable.

“I feel empathy for the businesses that will be affected,” she said. “I think there are solutions because I seem to be able to do it.”

Meanwhile, Abram Lutes, provincial coordinator of New Brunswick’s Common Front for Social Justice, said higher wages will ultimately mean more sales in small businesses because people will have more money to spend.

Instead, many people find themselves in “desperate conditions”, he said. “You have entities like payday lenders and things like that, which feed on people running out of money, which in the long run just perpetuates the cycle of poverty.”

Michael A. Bynum