Those opposed to changes to employment standards in New Brunswick have recently made their voices heard in the media. They are denouncing the timid proposals of Brian Gallant’s government to improve the lot of thousands of workers in the province.
What is it about the three proposals of the Liberal government that is making the lobbyists for small and medium businesses lash out?
The first proposal discusses increasing the province’s minimum wage by 3% per hour by the end of next year. New Brunswick currently has the second lowest minimum wage in the country, just ahead of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The second proposal examines added protections for domestic workers and agricultural workers in the Employment Standards Act.
The third proposal involves broadening the age for employment protections for New Brunswick’s young workers to include those under the age of 18 years old.
Nothing very revolutionary about that, you will agree, but it seems too much for these business people.
Among those three government’s proposals, only one really gets their attention: increasing the minimum wage.
According to the lobbyists, going forward with increasing the minimum wage would mean disaster for small and medium businesses in the province. They are predicting reduced hours, job cuts and closing of businesses.
Our province saw six increases of the minimum wage in the last seven years (2008-2015). Was it a disaster in terms of jobs? No, it was not.
When we analyze Statistics Canada employment data, we observe that, in that seven-year period, more jobs were created than lost for small and medium business overall. The real loss of jobs was in the large enterprises (500 and more employees). The job increase happened even when our economy went through a rough period because of the impacts of the 2008 financial crisis and the devaluation of the Canadian dollar in relationship to the American dollar; two factors that deeply affected our economy.
We believe, on the contrary, that our minimum wage should increase gradually to reach $15 in 2021. If we want to keep our workers and give them a decent salary, we must take the necessary measures.
We also believe the provincial government should have jumped at the opportunity presented by the review of the employment standards to include paid sick leave, overtime paid at real salary, free uniforms for minimum wage workers, among other recommendations.
The lobbyists think that before making those small changes to the Employment Standards Act, the government should have carried out an impact assessment to find out the potential consequences of these changes. Isn’t it obvious that the workers who will get that tiny increase in their annual salary ($728 gross salary in 2017) will spend that very money in the same small and medium businesses? Isn’t it obvious that these workers and their families need a better salary in order to have a decent life? Isn’t it obvious that taxpayers are the ones subsidizing these small and medium enterprises through tax cuts for low-income workers, public assistance programs, reduction of contributions to employment insurance and tax cuts for these very enterprises?
Jean-Claude Basque is the provincial coordinator for the New Brunswick Common Front for Social Justice.