Manitoba cannot fall behind other provinces in minimum wage, premier vows ahead of new legislation

After initially suggesting the wages of Manitoba’s lowest-paid employees are rising on their own, Premier Heather Stefanson wants to tip the scales and improve a minimum wage that’s poised to be the lowest in Canada. 

On Friday, Stefanson said Manitoba needs to be competitive with other provinces in the pay its businesses offer.

“Even though we have indexed our minimum wage to inflation, I think we have somewhat gotten behind where other provinces have gone and so we want to ensure that we are not falling behind there,” Stefanson told reporters after a meeting of the Western Premiers’ Conference in Regina.

Manitoba currently offers a minimum wage of $11.95 an hour. Under the current formula of tying wage hikes to inflation, the lowest earners are slated to receive an extra 40 cents an hour, to $12.35, by Oct. 1.

By then, however, Manitoba’s lowest hourly wage will be usurped by Saskatchewan, which is temporarily ignoring its own formula of indexing the minimum wage rate to inflation to hit $13 an hour by October 2022 and eventually $15 by 2024.

Legislation coming to improve minimum wage

Manitoba’s government recently served notice through the legislature it would introduce a bill regarding the minimum wage as early as Monday. 

Earlier this month, Stefanson didn’t appear too concerned her province was bound to offer the lowest minimum wage in the country, even as the cost of living soars. 

She suggested provincial employers, reeling from a labour shortage, are voluntarily raising wages to recruit workers. 

“I’ve talked to several different industries where they’re having difficulties finding labour … it’s a supply and demand issue. Right now, I suspect that there’s less that are actually paying minimum wage,” the premier told reporters on May 9.

Statistics Canada data estimates more than 23,000 workers were making the minimum wage or less in 2021. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

“My primary concern is that shortage of labour and ensuring through our provincial nominee program and other programs that we can get people trained up for those jobs that are needed in Manitoba.”

At the time, the Manitoba Federation of Labour suggested if Stefanson’s position held true she should have no qualms with raising the minimum wage since few were receiving it anyway.

Asked on Friday why her position changed, Stefanson stressed she’s always pushed for Manitoba to be competitive with other provinces.

Statistics Canada data requested by the Manitoba Federation of Labour estimates more than 23,000 workers were making the minimum wage or less in 2021. Individuals making a lower amount would include gig economy workers, whose pay may not be legislated by government.

The union wants Manitoba’s lowest earners to approach a living wage closer to $15 an hour. 

In an interview Thursday, Labour Minister Reg Helwer said the high cost of living has stretched the purchasing power of Manitobans.

“We’re in very uncertain times right now [with] inflationary pressures,” Helwer said, while keeping mum on any specifics surrounding the bill. 

Helwer said there have been many discussions over the past several months about the economy and minimum wage and the planned bill will “deal with some of those issues,” though he also said Manitoba is one of the most affordable provinces in the country. 

Predictability of wage hikes will continue: Helwer

The labour minister, however, held firm to his previous argument that Manitobans deserve the predictability of scheduled wage increases. Helwer said it gets the politics out of the wage-setting process. 

“Some provinces are continuing their process of predictability; others are using a more political approach. We think in Manitoba that predictability is good for both labour and management of small business,” he said.

The Tory government passed legislation in 2017 to index the minimum wage to the rate of inflation. 

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