NDP’s White presses Streicker on minimum wage review

What at one point looked like an automatic review of Yukon’s minimum wage will now be up to the government to decide.

What at one point looked like an automatic review of Yukon’s minimum wage will now be up to the government to decide.

Minister of Community Services John Streicker told the legislative assembly April 27 his department has a policy to review the minimum wage if it ever drops to sixth-highest in Canada.

“We also have a piece of policy where, if that ever drops down to the sixth position, we would then have a review here in the legislature on minimum wage,” he said.

Yukon’s $11.32 an hour is currently fifth in the country. If British Columbia, which is in the middle of an election campaign, follows through with a plan to raise its rate to $11.35 in mid-September, Yukon would drop to sixth.

But it turns out falling to sixth isn’t low enough to trigger an automatic review like Streicker thought.

The territory’s employment standards board has an internal policy directive to conduct a minimum wage review if Yukon’s minimum wage rate falls to “the lower half of all minimum wage rates in Canada’s provinces and territories,” according to Department of Community Services spokesperson Bonnie Venton Ross.

With 13 Canadian jurisdictions, sixth place isn’t enough to make it into the “bottom half.”

“The reason that I said six was because that was my understanding of where this would get triggered,” Streicker said in an interview. “Now my understanding is that it gets triggered when you’re in the bottom half.”

Yukon’s minimum wage is tied to inflation. Currently it’s lower than both other territories as well as Alberta and Ontario.

The NDP has been pushing the government in the legislative assembly to increase minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“(The current minimum wage) it’s more than one dollar below the minimum wage in both the N.W.T. and Nunavut. Everyone knows that $11.32 is not enough to meet the basic needs in Yukon,” MLA Kate White said May 2.

“It’s a poverty wage, Mr. Speaker. That’s why we see so many working people at the food bank every month and that is just not acceptable.”

A $15 minimum wage would vault Yukon to the top of the country, eventually tying it with Alberta which is slated to go to $15 starting in 2018.

Streicker ruled that out. “We’re not considering that as a government,” he told the legislative assembly.

His department is doing an analysis, including looking at the cost of living in other jurisdictions compared to the various minimum wages, he said.

“For example, the highest minimum wage in the country (currently) is with Nunavut. Their minimum wage is $13 an hour. I wonder if we took a look at what the cost of housing is in Nunavut and the cost of food and services is in Nunavut compared to a $13 minimum wage — how that would compare.… I actually think we would look somewhat favourable in that light, but let’s do the numbers and figure it out.”

Though a minimum wage review won’t be automatic, Streicker could choose to initiate one himself.

Right now, he said, the government is gathering evidence.

“The question about whether or not I will trigger it will be based on the evidence that we gather between now and then.”

The five-member employment standards board “has historically conducted the minimum wage review process in a public manner,” Venton Ross said in an email, “and has recommended minimum wage rates based on its analysis of that input and statistical evidence.”

White said it would be “shameful” for the government to wait to conduct a review until the territory falls further in the ranks.

“My position doesn’t change at all. Except for now the decision, and that ability, solely rests with (Streicker) and his government.”

White highlighted a study done by the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition which found that the living wage for a family of four in Whitehorse with two children is $19.12.

“That’s accessing all the money that you can…. That’s what they would need to earn to have a living wage in Yukon, each,” White said.

There are no easily accessible statistics that lay out how many people in the Yukon make less than the $15-per-hour the NDP is promoting.

Yukon statistics show in 2015, nine per cent of the workforce was working in food service and accommodation and making an average of $463 per week before taxes. The data doesn’t break down how many hours of work that is.

At 40 hours a week, minimum wage earners currently make $453 per week.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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