N.W.T. bumps up its minimum wage to just over $15 per hour

·2 min read
N.W.T. Education Minister R.J. Simpson speaks with reporters on Feb. 6, 2020 at the legislature.  (Alex Brockman/CBC - image credit)
N.W.T. Education Minister R.J. Simpson speaks with reporters on Feb. 6, 2020 at the legislature. (Alex Brockman/CBC - image credit)

The Northwest Territories announced a boost in its minimum wage Thursday.

Starting Sept. 1, workers earning minimum wage will get $1.74 an hour more — a $15.20 hourly wage instead of $13.46, according to a government news release.

Minister of Education, Culture and Employment R.J. Simpson said in the legislature Thursday that the government wants to maintain fair and competitive wage rates while encouraging economic activity and supporting small businesses.

"This increase ensures that the minimum wage does not fall behind, brings our minimum to average wage ratio more in line with the rest of Canada, and makes us more competitive with our neighbouring jurisdictions," Simpson said.

"By providing workers across the territory with a minimum wage more suitable to the cost of living, and businesses the option to attract more workers for minimum wage positions — I am confident that this increase will benefit both NWT workers and businesses."

Simpson says its waiting until September to go into effect to give employers time to plan and implement the change.

The territory's news release says the decision was made based on research and "options provided by the Minimum Wage Committee," which was created in 2013 is made up of representatives from business, labour and community organizations across the territory.

The last minimum wage rate increase in the territory was in 2018. Since then, the territory says both the cost of living and the average hourly wage in the N.W.T. rose and its minimum wage earners have fell behind.

Its new rate means the N.W.T. will tie with B.C. for having the second-highest minimum wage in Canada, after Nunavut.

'Not enough'

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly, however, said the increase is "not enough" to prevent a sharp drop to workers' wages this September.

A minimum wage "top-up" program from the federal government has increased many essential workers' wages to $18 an hour during the pandemic — but that program is due to end Aug. 31, O'Reilly says.

Though the increase will take effect the next day, O'Reilly said it is "not very fair" for workers to see their wages change overnight.

O'Reilly also said the $15.20 wage still falls short of a living wage in the North.

"Is it enough to help people get out of poverty? No," he said.

O'Reilly said he and other MLAs are continuing to push for a universal basic income as an alternative to minimum wage increases.

"We need to find a way to try and close that gap," he said.