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Minimum wage increase polarizes local business owners and employees in Grand Falls-Windsor

Advanced Education, Skills and Labour Minister Al Hawkins (right) takes questions on the province’s handling of minimum wage at the Confederation Building Media Centre Feb. 20. Hawkins was joined by Ken Clements, director of the labour standards division.
Advanced Education, Skills and Labour Minister Al Hawkins (right) takes questions on the province’s handling of minimum wage at the Confederation Building Media Centre Feb. 20. Hawkins was joined by Ken Clements, director of the labour standards division. - Ashley Fitzpatrick

Some say it's not enough, others say it contributes to increasing costs for businesses

GRAND FALLS-WINDSOR, NL – The provincial government’s recently announced minimum wage increase has drawn strong reactions from all sides.

As of April 1, minimum wage will increase by 15 cents to $11.15 an hour.

Local business owner Lou Alteen says his business can handle the increase, but he’s not sure how much of an impact it will have on employees.

“Any increase in these trying retail times is not nice, but I do respect the fact that people need money to live,” said the owner of Alteen's Jewellers.
“(But) to someone that's earning minimum wage, is that enough to do anything … for them?”

The province will still have the third-lowest minimum wage in the country after the increase, which makes Alteen wonder what constitutes a proper living wage.

“Who decides what a living wage is?” he said. “And minimum wage, when it was started, was it meant to be a living wage? Or was it just meant to be a starting point?
“There's a lot of talk about living wage, and I don't know what a living wage is. I don't know if I'd want to leave it (deciding a living wage) to the politicians or not.
“I just wonder if 15 cents is going to make any difference to anything.”

The Advertiser contacted the Exploits Regional Chamber of Commerce for its views on the increase, but the board had not yet had time to discuss the issue with members and declined comment.

Lee Oliver, a single mother and employee of M&M Food Market, thinks 15 cents could make a big difference to her.

“My baby sitter just got a raise,” Oliver said. “So, I would love to be able to make as much to at least cover that. Honestly, I think (minimum wage) should be more.
“I struggle every day. By the time I'm finished paying all my bills, and my baby sitter makes pretty much half my paycheck – no, it's not enough.”

Oliver, however, is wary of the risks of raising the minimum wage too quickly.

“I'm also worried about what's happening in Ontario,” she said. “Basically, they're being cut hours and benefits. They've even lost employees at places.”

That worry seems like it isn't far-fetched for Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Not good at all,” said Quick Stop Convenience owner Jeff Bannister when asked about the impact of the wage increase on small business owners.
“I've been here 10 years, and first when I bought the store, minimum wage was (about) $6.25. In 10 years it's going to be $11.15. That's quite an increase, so what happens is you end up working it yourself and you're giving somebody else no job. Simple as that.”

Bannister said he has two and sometimes three employees working for him, though now because of the increase it will be fixed at two.
He said he has already had to cut employees due to previous increases throughout the years.

“Don't get me wrong, anyone (who) goes to work deserves that much,” Bannister said when referring to the new minimum wage. “But for a small business like this, it's not feasible.
“What they're doing is making the small (business owners) work it, instead of having an extra employee or two.”

Bannister noted it wasn't possible to raise the price of his goods, stating he would just be undercut by a store with corporate backing.

“It's a joke – $11.15 is not a livable wage,” said Amber Drew, a sales clerk at Dicks & Company Basics. “I think it needs to be at least $12. The extra 15 cents isn't going to get me anywhere.
“The cost of living here isn't cheap at all. I'll never get ahead at this rate.”

The minimum wage increases in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as all other Atlantic provinces, will now be tied to April 1 annually and will adjust along with inflation.

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