Labour Views – Fight for 15-North: Northern labour groups to push for $15 minimum wage

A new year begins and with it a new hope that the working lives of Northerners continue to improve.

As I have mentioned in a previous column, PSAC North is today announcing that we are starting a new campaign to increase the legal minimum wage. In partnership with other labour organizations across the North, we are calling on all three governments to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2019.

Much of our efforts will be in the spirit of the Fight for $15 movement in a number of Western countries, but as many may know, minimum wage raises are already underway in many other areas of Canada. As of Jan. 1, 2018, the Government of Ontario increased its minimum wage to $14 an hour (an increase by $2.50) and will be making another raise to $15 in a year’s time. In Alberta, that province will increase its rate to $15 per hour this October. The B.C. government is likewise looking to implement a $15/hr minimum wage in the next few years.

These are bold acts which are good for low-wage workers and good for the economy.

These changes in our southern provinces will mean that the North will no longer be in the lead with the highest rates in Canada. It is high time that our Territorial governments act to ensure our workers are not left behind, especially as it costs more to live in the North than the rest of Canada. Right now, the NWT minimum wage sits at $12.50 and has not moved since 2015. That wage sits behind Nunavut’s rate of $13/hr and ahead of Yukon at $11.32/hr.

Last June, a Minimum Wage Committee, which meets every two years in an advisory role under the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment (Alfred Moses) reviewed the status of the minimum wage. Members studied the options of retaining the current rate, or increasing to either $13.96/hr or $14.95/hr. In its final report, the committee chose no change.

While the minister responsible has yet to come forward with any recommendation to the NWT legislative assembly as it comes to revising the minimum wage section of the Employment Standards Act, PSAC North believes that the committee’s decision was not adequate based on what workers need to live here.

In late November, for example, Alternatives North released a study that showed between 2015 (when the minimum wage was last revised) and 2017, the cost of living in Yellowknife increased by $1.56 per person. We feel strongly that a minimum wage increase will go a long way in helping low-income earners meet the pressures of an increasing cost of living.

As a result, between now and the February/March sitting of the Yukon, NWT & Nunavut legislative assemblies, we will be asking the residents of all three territories to sign a petition to support increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2019. We will soon be presenting a link to our online petition and we will have a paper version of the document in our office and a number of other locations throughout the North. The results of that petition will be presented to the respective legislative assemblies at a yet to be named date.

We will also be asking citizens to sign a post card that will go to the Premier’s and which will indicate support for the minimum wage increase.

While there is expected to be resistance to this move by members of the business community and others who insist such an increase will disrupt the economy, there is plenty of evidence that shows such a move will mean decreased poverty, decreased reliance on public assistance, increased fairness and increased opportunity for those in our society who most need it. 

There are residents who are currently forced to work more than one job and who must work for more than 40 hours per week to make ends meet. Often they are statistically the most marginalized of our society, whether they be new Canadians, indigenous peoples, or women and may have children or dependents that they are supporting.

Let’s start the year off right and demand that our northern territories are generous to low-income earners. It’s time for a raise.