Chamber, business association weigh in on minimum wage

By Jeff Labine

More provinces are moving to offer a higher minimum wage but the government regulating that rate isn’t sitting well with business associations.

The Ontario government announced on Tuesday the minimum wage would gradually increase to $15 by 2019. The news follows a similar announcement by Alberta but its wage increase is expected to come in by 2018.

Most province’s including Saskatchewan are hovering around $10.50 to $11 per hour. Saskatchewan’s minimum wage is currently at $10.72, following a 20 cent increase based on the Consumer Price Index.

At $10.50, Newfoundland and Labrador have the lowest minimum wage while Nunavut, at the moment, offers the most at $13.

Rick Orr, the executive director of Prince Albert Downtown Business Improvement District, said he suspects most business are paying $15 an hour already to keep good staff.

“I think most people don’t want to be regulated,” he said. “They want to be able to set it based on market conditions. Having a government say OK it is $15 or $20 an hour isn’t really the role a lot of business people think they should be in. Basically, people feel they should pay a fair wage to keep the staff that they have.”

He believes minimum wage impacts students and restaurants more so than any other business.

What truly matters, he said, is the bottom line and the amount of staff businesses can afford to keep while ensuring doors remain open.

Steve McLellan, the CEO of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, said he didn’t believe Ontario would deliver on its promise. He pointed out the governing Liberal party isn’t too popular among Ontarians at the moment and their general election is in 2018.

He said the current system set by the Saskatchewan government works.

“People need to be cognizant that the minimum wage is indeed that,” he said. “Many part-time jobs and even student jobs are beyond the minimum wage now. As a person progresses through their work life, they may start at a minimum wage level but as they become more productive, work harder or are in a position through training or so on where they can create greater value for the company that’s what increases someones income.”

During the last federal election, one of the NDP’s main campaign promises was to bring in a $15 per hour minimum wage standard across Canada.

McLellan added the chamber is open to discussions around living and minimum wages.

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