Action is needed on poverty, not more talk
During the recent annual Labour Day celebrations in Amherst, a provincial union leader issued a challenge to town officials to bring some pressure to bear upon the McNeil Liberal Government to increase the province’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Lawrence McKay of the United Steelworkers of America contends that too many Nova Scotians are living in poverty because they simply can’t make ends meet on the current minimum wage. He’s suggesting the town could set an example for other communities by supporting a resolution calling on the province to hike the minimum wage to the $15 level.
No one can deny that trying to keep your head above water financially in today’s economy is almost impossible at the current minimum wage rate. Single parents earning minimum wage are using food banks to make ends meet while Maritime students, who are burdened with university loans, face some of the highest tuitions in the country, and high rates of summer unemployment.
Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill argues that increasing the rate to $15 would stimulate the economy because it would improve the buying power of lower income workers.
From the employers’ perspective, an increased minimum wage does have its drawbacks and many in the food and beverage industry have long been critical of the process saying a small wage hike can trigger a cascade of extra expenses. For example, the restaurant industry in this province has responded in the past by eliminating jobs and cutting employees hours.
Te current government isn’t convinced that the increased rate would have the desired effect. Premier McNeil has already said the proposed increase would produce inflationary pressures that would be felt by small businesses and other workers. Right now we have the Minimum Wage Review Committee which has representation from business and labour. Minimum wage increases now occur annually and are based on the previous year’s national Consumer Price Index. It allows employers to set their annual budgets knowing well in advance what the minimum wage will be. Granted, that is little consolation for low income families who just can’t seem to get ahead. One possible solution that is being proposed by the NDP is that small and family-operated businesses would be exempt from the increase while large corporations would foot the bill. The McNeil Liberals have talked about increasing the basic personal exemption as one way to provide relief to low income earners.
For the working poor in this province, having our political, business and labour leaders talking about possible solutions is little consolation. We need only look at the latest census figures from Statistics Canada which clearly indicate that workers in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are trailing the rest of the country in terms of household income and have the highest rates of child poverty at 22 per cent. That should be seen as simply unacceptable.