Minimum wage in Nova Scotia will rise 40 cents to $13.35 an hour starting April 1 and is likely on its way to hitting $15, the province announced Thursday.
The government accepted the recommended increase put forth by the Nova Scotia minimum wage review committee and is taking some time to examine further recommendations that would see the minimum wage hit $15 an hour in 2024.
Premier Tim Houston said he wouldn't take much longer than a week to decide, noting the review panel is comprised of high-quality people tasked with the job and his inclination is to accept the work.
"Governments should always come down on the side of respecting their recommendations, as opposed to undermining," Houston told reporters following a cabinet meeting.
"From what I can see, I have no interest in undermining the work of the committee."
After the initial increase, subsequent raises in the minimum wage would be as follows:
Increase to $13.60 per hour on Oct. 1, 2022
Increase to $14.30 per hour on April 1, 2023
Increase to $14.65 on Oct. 1, 2023
Increase to $15 on April 1, 2024.
At that point, the minimum wage would be adjusted with inflation plus an additional one per cent annually.
Even if the province does hit $15 an hour, it's not considered a living wage by people who study the issue. Houston said the government is sensitive to the fact the cost of living has outstripped what many people make. The committee's report noted that 62 per cent of the people who make minimum wage are renters.
A report released in November showed Nova Scotians need a much higher income than the current minimum wage of $12.95 to afford to live in this province.
The Nova Scotia branch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives — an independent, non-partisan research institute — found the living hourly wage varies from $18.45 to $22.05, depending on location. The numbers were calculated using a methodology that involved taking data from Statistics Canada and other sources to determine costs in a given community.
A budget was then created to determine how much income is needed in order to cover expenses, premiums and taxes.
Views on increases shifting
The province said 31,400 Nova Scotians worked for minimum wage between April 2020 and March 2021, primarily in retail, followed by the food and accommodation industries.
In the past, governments and some business leaders have expressed concern that if the minimum wage increases too soon too fast, it will create a burden for small business.
Susan Corkum-Greek, the minister of economic development, said she believes that view has shifted for many businesses that struggle to get enough workers and, more recently, have used options such as bonuses to attract more staff.
The minister said she expects some people will have to adjust their business model.
"I think there is a growing acceptance that this is something businesses must prepare for each in their own way," she told reporters.
Corkum-Greek said the combination of inconsistent work due to the pandemic, the seasonality of many jobs in rural communities and the fact they are often low-paying jobs has forced some businesses to get creative and some workers to look elsewhere to make ends meet.
"We all have the bills that we have and we have to look at how we can cover those bills."
'Floor minimum wage'
NDP Leader Gary Burrill, who's spent much of his political career since becoming party leader in 2016 pushing for a minimum wage of $15 an hour, said the dramatic increase in grocery prices means people working for minimum wage are losing the ability to support their households.
He told reporters that people need the wage increase to come sooner.
"What we need to be talking about now is a floor minimum wage of $15 immediately and then having all of this discussion about what is a path by which we move from there to a living," he said.
"The government has the capacity, at a moment when this is much needed, to implement this benchmark. I think they should do so with focus and dispatch and immediately."
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