Small business group wants NS to look beyond minimum wage hikes to address poverty

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A group representing small businesses is pushing the Nova Scotia government to look beyond minimum wage hikes to address poverty.

“If you want to fix poverty, there’s a whole series of things that [the] government can work on. You could work on the welfare levels,” Louis-Philippe Gauthier of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses told a provincial legislative committee on human resources.

The committee met Tuesday at the Nova Scotia legislature to hear from the public and private sectors on labor shortages and the minimum wage.

“Everybody goes back to this default mentality that minimum wage will fix everything,” Gauthier said in an interview with CBC News.

He said that small businesses are struggling to make ends meet as the minimum wage increases. On April 1, the minimum wage in Nova Scotia went up 90 cents to $14.50 an hour. In October, a second increase will take the wage to $15 an hour.

Nova Scotia has also agreed to increase the minimum wage each April based on the Consumer Price Index percentage change for the previous calendar year, plus one per cent.

Gauthier said not everyone working a minimum wage job requires a living wage, which is defined as the minimum hourly wage earned in a 35-hour work week needed to afford shelter, food and necessities. A 2022 report calculated it would be $23.50 for Halifax workers.

He said many people who earn the minimum wage aren’t supporting a family.

“[A] substantial amount are students that are still in school,” Gauthier said.

According to the Nova Scotia Minimum Wage Review Report, 74 per cent of minimum wage employees in the province are non-students, and 53 per cent already have post-secondary education. The report also states that 34 per cent of minimum wage employees in Nova Scotia are over the age of 35.

Wage subsidies suggested

Collette Robert is part of the province’s Minimum Wage Review Committee, a group made up of employee and employer representatives which makes recommendations to the government on setting the minimum wage.

Robert, an employee representative, told the committee she holds a master’s degree in science, and works two jobs to make ends meet. One of her jobs is minimum wage, and the other pays only slightly higher, she said.

Robert suggested a government wage subsidy could help support both workers and businesses who are struggling.

“Everyone deserves to earn a living wage,” she told CBC News in an interview.

The committee meeting was also heard from deputy minister Ava Czapalay of the Department of Labor, Skills and Immigration. She presented a variety of social programs to support Nova Scotians who want to find jobs that pay more than the minimum age.

“They can visit a local Nova Scotia Works office, where they’ll find opportunities to do everything from preparing their CV, right through to getting some counseling on interview skills,” said Czapalay.

New Democrat MLAs Gary Burrill and Suzy Hansen raised questions concerning the poverty of many workers across the province experience.

“How can we get into a situation where everybody who has a full-time job can have the reasonable guarantee that they will be able to support their household, and pay their bills?” said Burrill in an interview.

One aspect all parties agreed on was the need to help Nova Scotians facing economic hardships.

“We need to be able to do more, and do better, for those communities and those people [need] to have three and four jobs to live, and they can’t afford their groceries, they can’t pay for their medication,” said Hansen.

Gauthier acknowledged the problem of poverty in the province, but hopes legislation other than minimum wage hikes can address it.

“There are other tools in the toolbox,” he said.

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