The minimum wage in Saskatchewan will increase to $13 per hour starting Oct. 1 this year and $15 per hour by 2024.
At Star Egg and Maple Leaf Foods facilities in Saskatoon, Pat Horbay says many employees are working two jobs because they only make around minimum wage.
The extra hours mean they miss time with their family, he said, adding they also come to work every day feeling tired.
“I would love to see my members make more money, so they don’t have to do two jobs or three jobs,” said Horbay, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 248P, which represents employees at the facilities.
“My members are tired from doing multiple jobs, they’re tired,” he continued.
With the province announcing Tuesday it plans to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024, Horbay said the additional dollars will be helpful.
However, he said the $15-per-hour figure should be implemented immediately.
Instead, the province is increasing the minimum wage from $11.81 per hour to $13 per hour starting on Oct. 1 this year.
Saskatchewan currently has the lowest minimum wage among all provinces and territories.
“I do believe $15 should be jumped up now, not 2024,” Horbay said. “The way the cost of living is going on, there’s a lot of my members that make just under $12 an hour or just over $13. It’s not enough.”
Labour Minister Don Morgan told reporters the increase in the minimum wage is meant to make life more affordable because inflationary pressures have caused the cost of goods to spike.
He said the increase is being phased over the next three years because the government wants businesses to have enough time to adapt to the changes.
Morgan said there are roughly 45,000 people in the province that make minimum wage.
“We have to do a bit of a balance,” he said. “We have to look at the effect that there is on businesses. But we also have to look at the increasing effect there are on individual workers.”
Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce CEO Jason Aebig said while the changes will make life more affordable for workers, many businesses will have to raise prices on goods in order to make up for the higher wages.
He said many salaried businesses may also end up adjusting their pay scales to reflect the changes.
“Future changes to the minimum wage should be indexed, planned and tied to an updated formula that reduces the need for unexpected market adjustments,” he said. Substantial changes outside the formula contribute to uncertainty, making it hard for (small and medium businesses) to plan accordingly.”
In Regina, Stone’s Throw Coffee Collective owner Kim Zacaruk said the higher wage will result in higher prices for goods.
Zacaruk said she hopes customers are understanding of the higher prices, noting it’s common for her to pay staff more than minimum wage.
“I’ve been sitting on raising my prices for about a year just because it is my least enjoyable thing to do,” she said. “We appreciate having these customers, but there’s really no debate. I don’t welcome debate because it’s simply an input.”
The hike signifies a change in tune for the Saskatchewan Party government.
During the 2020 election campaign, the Sask. Party had stated an increase in the minimum wage would add additional costs to businesses.
As well, it had said COVID-19 has made the business environment challenging.
The Opposition NDP and labour groups have long called for the province to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The pledge was part of its 2020 election campaign.
Labour critic Jennifer Bowes said the announcement from the province is a “partial win” for the party.
She said the province should have mandated the $15 hourly wage for this October rather than in 2024.
“It should have been $15 an hour years ago, to be honest with you,” she said. “And what we need to be seeing for workers is an increase immediately, not in six months from now.”
That sentiment was echoed by Saima Desai, an organizer in Regina with Fight for 15 Saskatchewan, which has long advocated for a $15 minimum wage.
Desai said Saskatchewan will be behind other jurisdictions by 2024.
“We need $15 per hour today, and we need a higher minimum wage by 2024,” she said.
Desai said owners are now conceding to the $15 minimum wage because they are having a difficult time hiring people at a lower rate.
Some industry groups have said they’ve been advertising a higher wage to attract employees because of labour shortages.
Some business owners in Saskatchewan already pay $15 per hour or more, arguing it helps retain employees because they aren’t stressed about having to pay the bills.
On the flip side, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has argued businesses can’t afford the increase.
The organization has said many businesses are still recovering from COVID-19, have taken on debt, paying more in payroll taxes and dealing with higher inflation.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) released a report on Tuesday showing the liveable wage in Saskatoon is $16.87 per hour and $16.23 in Regina.
“$15 two years from now is too little, too late,” said Simon Enoch, the director of the CCPA’s Saskatchewan office, on Twitter.
Morgan stayed firm on the phase-in approach, but said the province will again assess the rate in 2024 to see if further changes are needed.
Horbay said if the province cares about families, it would realize the $15 minimum is needed now.
“I want my members back spending time with their families,” he said. “They (the government) can’t use that excuse that once you jack things up by $15 everything will go up because everything went up already.”