By Hailie Tattrie and Lisa Cameron
Today, April 1, the Nova Scotia Government raised the minimum wage by 40 cents to $12.95 per hour. Although this is one of the largest provincial minimum wage increases in decades, it falls far below the cost-of-living province-wide and is nowhere near what Nova Scotians require to make ends meet.
Credit for the minimum wage increase is in large part due to the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign in Kjipuktuk/Halifax, a grassroots movement that champions higher wages and improvements to provincial labour standards.
According to Nova Scotia’s 2020 Living Wage Report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), a liveable wage is “calculated to show exactly how much a household would have to earn to cover all basic necessities and allow families to live in dignity and enjoy a decent quality of life.”
A livable wage, according to the CCPA report, is one which would allow families to avoid financial stress, support healthy child development, and allow families to participate in the “social, civic and cultural lives of their communities.”
The living wage calculation differs by municipality. However, the new $12.95 provincial minimum wage rate falls far below what workers in every community need to get by. In Cape Breton, the living wage was calculated to be $16.80 an hour, while in Antigonish it was an estimated $19.55 per hour. In Halifax, the living wage calculation was a whopping $21.80, exceeding the new provincial hourly minimum wage by nearly $10.00.
Marginalized groups at increased risk
Minimum wage workers are often portrayed as young people and students working in small businesses, part-time to supplement financial support from their parents. However, the profile of a minimum wage earner in Nova Scotia, and beyond, vastly differs from this stereotype. 44% of minimum wage workers in the province are over the age of 25, 42% are working full-time, and 85% do not live with their parents. Furthermore, 58% of minimum wage workers are employed by large businesses with over 100 employees.
The number of low-wage workers in the province has been steadily increasing, along with the cost-of-living, rendering more and more Nova Scotians vulnerable to poverty. In 2019, the number of minimum wage workers in the province increased by 7.1%, or 7,300 workers, from the year prior. In 2017, the number of Nova Scotians earning less than $15 per hour accounted for over a quarter of the province’s workforce.
Members of marginalized communities are more susceptible to poverty and overrepresented in minimum wage employment. According to the 2021 Nova Scotia Minimum Wage Review Committee Report, 62% of Nova Scotia’s minimum wage earners are female. According to the Conference Board of Canada, white Nova Scotians earn approximately 7.3% more than people of colour. This disparity is compounded by gender, with a “female racial wage gap” of 11.2% in the province.
The ever-increasing cost of living, combined with inadequate wages, have no-doubt contributed to growing provincial rates of homelessness. The number of people experiencing chronic homelessness has more than doubled in Nova Scotia since 2019. 22% of our homeless population claim Indigenous status, which is staggering given that Indigenous peoples make up only 7.5% of the provincial population according to Statistics Canada.
The minimum wage committee
Although it is well known that the cost of living far exceeds $12.95 per hour, members of Nova Scotia’s Minimum Wage Review Committee voted unanimously to increase the provincial minimum wage by only .50 cents per hour this year.
With skyrocketing rental prices and an ever-increasing cost of living, the struggle of working Nova Scotians has been overlooked.
“We have to ask ourselves how many decision makers actually earn minimum wage?” says Scott Randell of Nova Scotia’s Fight for $15 and Fairness Campaign. “If not, how many are standing alongside our minimum wage earners, in solidarity, and advocating for them and their needs?”.
Randell says that the minimum wage increase is laughable. “It is fitting that this 40-cent increase has come into effect on April Fool’s Day, because $12.95 an hour is a joke” he says. “These are poverty wages. Nova Scotians deserve better.”
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