It’s finally happening. Premier Scott Moe is raising Saskatchewan’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. This is good news. It’s good news for workers in low-wage jobs. It’s good news for their children and their families.
It’s good news for local businesses whose customers will now have more money to spend on life’s basic necessities and the little extras that make life enjoyable.
62,000 workers in Saskatchewan currently earn less than $15 an hour for their labour. That’s roughly the population of Prince Albert and Moose Jaw combined.
At the same time, $15 is clearly no longer enough.
The new $15 minimum wage won’t be in full effect until 2024—seven years after the campaign for a $15 minimum wage became a provincial rallying cry in 2017.
Seven years is a long time, and $15 loses quite a bit of purchasing power during that time.
Adjusting for inflation, $15 an hour in 2017 is $16.65 in 2022 . By 2024, that number could reach $17.50 or higher based on current trends.
It begs the question: What the right benchmark is for a fair minimum wage?
Unifor advocates for a minimum wage policy that ties it to other indicators that are specific to a province’s labour market and standard of living. Specifically, we recommend the minimum wage be tied to 60% of the median wage for full-time workers. In Jurisdictions with extremely low median wages we recommend a minimum wage of at least $15.
By this benchmark, Saskatchewan’s minimum wage should be $18 an hour this year . By this reasonable measure, Scott Moe’s scheme for a $15 minimum wage two and half years from now is grossly inadequate.
Labour economists measure “low-wage work” as work performed for wages that are less than two-thirds the median hourly wage. In Saskatchewan, that figure is $17.82.
You can see how raising the minimum wage above the low-wage work threshold could benefit the province: approximately one in four Saskatchewan workers, or 116,000 adults, are doing what’s classified as low-wage work.
On top of that, many are working in part-time, temporary or casual jobs where hours and earnings are often unpredictable.
Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2024 is Premier Moe doing the bare minimum for workers earning low wages, but it is not nearly enough to ensure workers are able to meet their basic needs, let alone thrive.
Minimum wage isn’t the only area where Scott Moe is failing Saskatchewan’s workers. His poor track record extends to other critical areas of workplace law, such as replacement workers.
Unionized workers are generally not low-wage workers, but Scott Moe increases their vulnerability by refusing to outlaw replacement workers during lockouts or strikes. Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken action to level the playing field for workers with a commitment to banning replacement workers in the federal sector.
The use of replacement workers completely destroys the essence of a labour dispute, that is, a withdrawal of labour creating a cost to both the union and the employer.
Perhaps ironically, tilting the balance of power towards employers with replacement workers doesn’t achieve the goal of making unionized workers capitulate sooner—replacement workers actually extend labour disputes. The average length of a labour dispute with “scabs” is 265.1 days. Without them, the average dispute only lasts 42.8 days.
Saskatchewan’s workers deserve a premier who champions workplace rights and liveable wages. Until Scott Moe takes meaningful action on the minimum wage and replacement workers, we know who’s side he’s on.