$15/hour minimum wage campaign launches in NB [updated]

Written by Tracy Glynn on March 24, 2016

Student debt Tracy story

A group of St. Thomas University Social Work students drew attention to their student debt load at a Social Action Fair on the Fredericton campus on March 14, 2016. Photo by Tracy Glynn.

The NB Common Front for Social Justice, backed by over 35 community and labour organizations, is calling on the New Brunswick government to implement a $15/hour minimum wage.

New Brunswick’s minimum wage, $10.30/hour, is the lowest in Canada. The province promises to raise the minimum wage to $11/hour by 2017 but the province’s largest anti-poverty organization argues that it is not enough for workers.

The Common Front says raising the minimum wage to a more decent wage of $15/hour would benefit 20,900 minimum wage earners in the province, 13,100 of whom are identified as women.

The province’s minimum wage earners often work in non-unionized workplaces in the retail, cultural, accommodation and food services sectors. However, unionized home support workers are among those making poverty wages.

Thérèse (not her real name) is a 65-year-old home support worker with a college education. She makes $13.25/year at her unionized job but has no medical plan, no pension and no sick days. She has worked her entire adult life but is not able to retire due to her financial situation.

The Common Front stresses that the number of workers receiving minimum wage and working part-time in New Brunswick has more than doubled in a decade, rising from 4,200 in 2004 to 11,200 in 2014.

Half of the province’s minimum wage earners are employed full-time and 65% of them are 20 years old and older. It is a myth that teenagers entering the workforce make up the majority of minimum wage earners.

Many minimum wage earners also have student debt. The average student debt load in New Brunswick is $34,000, with many owing tens of thousands of dollars more than the average. A large number of minimum wage earners work in the retail and service industry, live paycheque to paycheque and go into overdraft every month. Some are able to turn to their families for support while others use to the food bank to eat.

Jory Uhlman is studying to be a social worker at St. Thomas University. The Nova Scotia native with a $50,000 debt load says, “Not a week goes by when I don’t think of the massive monthly payments I will have to make over the next decade or two and this stress accumulates with the everyday stresses of being a full-time student I already am facing. It also has forced me to work over 40 hrs/week working 12-hour shifts in a factory for four months every summer to keep my student debt down as well as pushed me to work during my undergraduate degree.”

The Common Front argues that the province’s minimum wage is not enough for individuals or single parent families or couples with children to survive: “We have analyzed the economic situation of seven different types of families, and we have discovered that their annual deficit falls between $1,501 and $12,661.”

The $15/hour wage became a 2015 federal election issue when the NDP promised to implement a $15/hour wage. The Liberals responded to the NDP promise saying that such a plan would not benefit workers since the provinces regulate minimum wage. The NDP pointed out that it would benefit some 100,000 minimum wage earners in federal sectors, including rail and air transportation, telecommunications, banks, uranium mining, Crown corporations and those on First Nation reserves.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the organization that lobbies on behalf of small business owners, is actively opposing a minimum wage increase.

The $15/hour wage has been been implemented in Seattle, Washington, and Los Angeles, California. The State of New York has promised to phase in a $15/hour wage for fast food workers.

The Common Front welcomes endorsements for their $15/hour campaign from groups as well as individuals. Individuals are being asked to sign a symbolic cheque from the Government of New Brunswick owing its workers a $15/hour minimum wage and fair employment standards. These cheques will be sent to all provincial ministers throughout the year-long campaign.

Tracy Glynn is an editorial board member of the NB Media Co-op.

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