Manitoba’s frozen minimum wage may very well remain that way into 2017, as Premier Brian Pallister and labour leaders disagree over whether a higher minimum wage helps the poor.
In a year-end interview with The Canadian Press, Pallister said he doesn’t believe a higher minimum wage is the best way to reduce poverty.
"It’s a mitigation tactic that is seen on the surface to be helping but really doesn’t reduce poverty," Pallister said. "Economic growth and economic development is very critical to helping people find work. We’re all about (a) hand-up."
Since winning the provincial election in April, the Progressive Conservative government has kept the minimum wage at $11 an hour, breaking the previous NDP government’s habit of raising the wage every October.
Long-term job security and economic growth are the best ways to boost wages for all workers and create opportunities for the unemployed, which are not helped by a higher minimum wage, Pallister said. The Tories have also helped low-income earners by raising the basic personal exemption on income tax — the level below which people pay no tax on their earnings — he added.
But poverty advocates say the tax break is nothing compared to more money in the hands of the working poor.
"What does help people is an increase in the hourly wage that they earn, which is why poverty advocates have long argued for an increase in the minimum wage as a way to help low-income earners," said Brandon Coun. Lonnie Patterson (South Centre),
co-chair of the city’s poverty committee.
"It directly puts money in your pocket … it’s just that simple. When someone gets an increase of how much they’re paid an hour, they make more money. Especially folks on the lower end of the income scale … the best way to help them out is to pay them more."
Patterson said Manitobans deserve to get paid a fair wage for the work they are doing, however, right now, someone working full-time, 40-hour weeks can struggle to make ends meet.
"Minimum wage is the lowest amount of money that the government says people should be paid for the work they do, and I think it is only fair that the wage be set at something that if someone is making that amount of money working full time, they should be able to pay their bills," Patterson said.
The government has made no commitment to raising the wage in 2017 and has referred the issue to the labour-management review committee, a government advisory group made up of both business and worker representatives. In early 2015, the same committee studied the issue under the previous NDP government and was unable to agree on recommendations.
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