A bare minimum

Experts and community members weigh in on Manitoba’s minimum wage

Even after an upcoming increase, Manitoba’s minimum wage is still among the lowest in the country and fails to provide a living wage. (Supplied photo)

 This fall, Manitoba was on track to have the lowest provincial minimum wage in Canada – that is, until the provincial government made an announcement.

On Aug. 18, the Province stated that the current minimum wage of $11.90/hr will increase to $13.50 an hour in October. This amount is greater than the previously scheduled increase to $12.35/hr.

The Province gained the ability to raise the minimum wage above the standard indexed amount (that reflects a predictable inflation rate) through Bill 44, the Employment Standards Code Amendment Act. Bill 44 was passed in an effort to support Manitobans as they experience “soaring cost-of-living increases,” Labour Minister Reg Helwer said in a spring press release.

2022 has seen record high inflation rates in Canada, the likes of which have not been seen for four decades. Essentially, Canadians are paying more everywhere they go.

The announced increase means that Manitoba will soon hold the title of second-lowest minimum wage in the country. Meanwhile, local businesses are taking matters into their own hands and finding ways to support their employees through expensive times.

Anthony Kowalczyk, founding member and co-owner of The Good Will, says the last few years haven’t been easy. “After the pandemic, the hospitality industry definitely took a big hit,” Kowalczyk shares. Despite these difficulties and rising inflation rates, The Good Will decided to raise wages for its employees.

At The Good Will, all positions now start at $16 an hour, the minimum amount the Manitoba Federation of Labour says full-time workers need “in order to climb out of poverty.”

For The Good Will, it’s about supporting their community and their staff.

“We want to encourage people to work here, and we want the people who work here to be happy and healthy ... we want our staff to be treated well,” Kowalczyk says.

James Townsend, associate professor of economics at the University of Winnipeg, acknowledges the balancing act that provincial governments must achieve when deciding on a minimum-wage increase.

“As the wage goes up, it becomes more expensive for firms to hire workers, so the (supply-and-demand economic) model predicts that they’ll hire fewer workers,” Townsend says.

The risks that workers face include employers cutting hours and other labour-saving measures, such as automation.

“Labour is relatively more expensive,” Townsend says, so employers may consider self-checkout kiosks instead of hiring checkout staff.

However, with inflation likely to remain high throughout the rest of the year, workers need higher wages to buy the same goods and services.

Another minimum wage increase is scheduled for April 1, 2023 with the lowest earning employees making $14.15/hr. By October 2023, minimum wage will increase to “around” $15/hr.

Published in Volume 77, Number 01 of The Uniter (September 8, 2022)

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