Newfoundland & Labrador Minimum Wage Remains Lowest in Atlantic Canada and Falls Further Behind as Nova Scotia Announces $1 increase.
St. John’s, NL: The Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour (NLFL) has been demanding that the province substantially increase its minimum wage this April 1st. As NLFL President Mary Shortall pointed out, “Our province has the lowest minimum wage in all of Atlantic Canada and the second lowest in all of Canada. Other provinces are taking steps to substantially increase their minimum wage. It is time we did the same.”
Starting April 1st, both PEI and Nova Scotia are planning major increases to their minimum wage. PEI’s minimum wage will rise 60 cents to $12.85 an hour, while Nova Scotia has just announced an increase of $1. On April 1st, the new minimum wage for Nova Scotia will be $12.55. Both provinces review the minimum wage annually and appointed advisory committees to provide their recommendations to government once the review is complete.
“This is great news for workers in our neighboring provinces and gives minimum wage workers here in Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) hope, that our Government will adopt a comparable view. We need a substantial increase to help lift workers out of poverty, help retain young people, help support local business and put more money into the local economy,” said Shortall.
I write in response to the recent Brian Jones’s column “Snowmageddon buries St. John’s, uncovers social justice.” (Telegram, January 29th, 2020.)
Mr. Jones left me puzzled. He argued the obvious, that unionized workers tend to have protections that make life more bearable, even during a week-long city shut down. Not so for low-wage workers who find themselves unprotected and left to the whims of their employers and market forces.
The logical conclusion from this argument is that there is value in belonging to a trade union, whereby by coming together workers are better able to secure improved working conditions, salary and benefits.
Our trade union history traces the hard-won gains that were necessary to ensure fairness and dignity for workers. It was through workers struggle that we won the 40-hour work week, weekends, vacations, child labour laws, maternity leave, overtime, minimum wage, health and safety protections, workers compensation, pension security and the right to organize. And yes, some collective agreements cover compensation during states of emergencies. Some of those workers’ rights have been enshrined in labour laws so that all workers can benefit from minimum standards of work. Our Federation continues to push for stronger employment standards, especially with the changing world of work.
As for income inequality, unions bargain fair compensation for the work their members do. Obviously – not all jobs are paid the same.
Thanks to the work of unions, we have a middle class that is able to participate in our market economy, purchase a car and maybe a house, take a vacation, help their kids with their tuition fees and pay their taxes.
With the state of emergency, we can appreciate that the local small-business owner who relies on day- to-day sales to survive will have difficulty paying wages to their full-time and part-time workers.
However, the giant retailers and food chains around this Province can, and should, offer better compensation and protection for their workers. It is these same corporations, often foreign-owned, who go to extremes to keep wages low and ensure their workplaces are never unionized. The same ones who amass millions of dollars of profits each year, some of which may not even stay in Newfoundland & Labrador.
As to Jones’s point that not every worker has such protections or abilities, is to state the obvious. The fact is, the majority of workers in Newfoundland & Labrador are not unionized. However we continue to advocate for improved labour legislation to make it easier for workers to join a union. Not an easy battle to win. In addition we are leading the fight for a $15 minimum wage as a step towards a living wage for all workers.
The fact that unions have benefited workers is the bread and butter of our existence. We take pride in any victory where workers get a fair deal.
President, Newfoundland & Labrador Federation of Labour
(Originally distributed January 27, 2020)
The Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour (NLFL) stands in full solidarity with the members of Unifor Local 594, who are currently locked out by their employer, the Co-op Refinery Complex in Regina, Saskatchewan.
If this employer was serious about getting a fair collective agreement with its employees, it would not have initiated a lockout, it would not have brought in scab labour and taken other measures to escalate this situation. Furthermore, having labour leaders and workers arrested for participating in a peaceful and legal demonstration, protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is just wrong and demonstrates the need for this lockout to end.
“We have seen far too many examples across this country where labour laws and legislation continually favour employers at the expense of workers, especially those employers who are set on taking away workers’ rights and the benefits that workers have fought for and bargained fairly,” said NLFL President Mary Shortall. “The fight of these 800 courageous workers walking the picket line in frigid temperatures, to protect their pensions, is our fight too,” added Shortall.
The NLFL and its 70,000 members stand in solidarity with these workers and join with the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL), the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and other Federations of Labour across the country, in calling for the employer to end the nearly two-month long lock-out, return to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair collective agreement.
President, Newfoundland & Labrador Federation of Labour
A Stronger Economy is Possible.
The Province’s Auditor General recently delivered her report on the province’s financial statements for the year ending March 31st, 2019. Quick off the mark, one can hear the beating of the “austerity” drum as we are reminded that we are spending beyond our means, and that means, as the December 19th Telegram editorial states, “Really tough decisions have to be made.”
It’s easy in tough times to feed the argument of excessive government spending and make austerity the optimal solution. There is no doubt that our province faces significant economic and social challenges. We keep hearing the narrative of Newfoundland & Labrador’s (NL’s) “spending” problem. Is that really accurate?
Are we ignoring the fact that NL has the lowest public expenditure per GDP in all of Atlantic Canada?
Does anyone take notice of the other fact that NL has seen its oil revenues decline significantly over the past 7 years, the same period of time that coincides with the 7 consecutive deficits that we have incurred?
Oil has gone from being over 30% of total government revenues to 13.8% of total revenues for the fiscal year 2018/19, mainly due to the volatility of oil markets. That’s a revenue problem. We also produce a lot more oil currently than we did ten years ago.
Our over-dependence and reliance on this sector for revenue has really hurt our economy. Relying on oil to solve our fiscal issues has not worked in the past, so expecting a different result now is not likely.
What about other options?