PSAC calls for minimum wage increase, plan for living wage

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A petition to increase Nunavut’s $13 minimum wage circulated in Iqaluit and most communities for the past two weeks.

The petition is a part of a pan-territorial Public Service Alliance of Canada’s (PSAC) Living Wage campaign.

photo courtesy Retail Council of Canada
Provinces are outpacing the territorial minimum wage despite the fact that Nunavut has the highest cost of living in Canada.

The petition calls for a minimum wage increase to $15 across all three territories, said regional executive vice-president for the North Jack Bourassa.

Nunavut’s petition, noting the living wage in Yellowknife is $20.96/hour, states the estimated living wage in Nunavut is $26. It asks, above and beyond raising the minimum by $2, that the Government of Nunavut develop a plan to change the minimum to a living wage of $26, as well as tie an annual wage increase to the consumer price index.

According to Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a living wage is calculated as the hourly rate at which a household can meet its basic needs, once government transfers have been added to the family’s income – such as federal and provincial child benefits – and deductions have been subtracted, such as income taxes and Employment Insurance premiums.

PSAC plans to have MLAs in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon table the petitions at each government’s next sitting.  Bourassa says the petition is the result of a resolution from the 2017 PSAC North regional convention.

“Since the resolution passed and I’ve embarked on this campaign, we’ve had three provinces either at or moving towards $15 an hour. It certainly seems to me the writing is on the wall that at some point all the provinces will eventually move towards $15 an hour,” said Bourassa.

“So it certainly seems to me that it would be inappropriate here in the North for us to seek parity, in so far as wages are concerned, with those south of 60. What we need up here is a wage that people can live on, hence the living wage.”

In 2016, the Government of Nunavut raised the minimum wage from $11 to the existing $13, but when legislation was changed in 2015 to allow for the increase, the act was updated to allow for review and increases by way of regulation rather than by legislation.  This makes the process quicker.

“Under the Labour Standards Act there’s a mandated annual reporting for minimum wage. Part of that reporting process is us taking a look at the current factors and analyzing current trends. We are currently looking to review the minimum wage again through our regular planning process,” said Justice senior policy analyst Mark Witzaney.

“Things we look at are the consumer price index and the Nunavut food price survey. Social policy initiatives like this tend to require consultation, so we’re looking to do some sort of survey or some sort of consultation with both businesses and Nunavummiut in the new year.”

 

‘Territory must move toward living wage’

Witzaney says when the department upped the wage in 2016, it found most businesses in the territory were not paying the $11 minimum wage at the time.

“Most were paying over and above,” Witzaney said.

“The way we did that consultation at the time is we actually found a list of businesses and called around and just sort of got an idea of what the different businesses were paying around the territory. There were only a few that would actually have had to have to increase their wages to meet that $13 an hour.”

The department found businesses were paying between $13 and $15 at the lower end.

For its upcoming survey and consultation, the department again intends to find out what businesses are actually paying and what the cost of living looks like.

Bourassa says since the Second World War, people’s wages have not kept up with the cost of living, and that discrepancy is the greatest in the North, in particular Nunavut.

“I don’t expect a living wage will be adopted anytime soon, but they (governments) need to move in that direction. We are now falling behind people living in the south and our cost of living in the North is so much higher than theirs,” he said.

“It’s just not fair.”

In Calgary, where the minimum wage is now $15, the 2018 living wage is estimated to be $17.70 for a family of four, with two parents working full-time, according to the Calgary Herald.

If Justice determines a rise in the minimum wage is called for, a request for decision would be presented to cabinet. There is no cap to a rise in the legislation.

Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone has indicated he is interested in taking the issue of minimum wages to the legislative assembly.

“Not to prejudice the will of the house … If it’s something they think is necessary obviously they can bring forward private member’s legislation. We don’t see it often, but it’s possible. But there are faster avenues with the passing of that bill in 2016,” said Witzaney.

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Michele LeTourneau first arrived at NNSL's headquarters in Yellowknife in1998, with a BA honours in Theatre. For four years she documented the arts across the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Following a very short stint as a communications officer with the Government of the Northwest Territories, Michele spent a decade at a community-based environmental monitoring board in the mining industry, where she worked with Inuit, Chipewyan, Tlicho, Yellowknives Dene and Metis elders to help develop traditional knowledge and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit contributions for monitoring and management plans. She rejoined NNSL and moved to Iqaluit in May 2014 to write for Nunavut News. Michele has received a dozen awards for her work with NNSL.