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Minimum wage unsustainable, Manitoba workers falling behind: report

A study released Thursday describes the challenges minimum wage earners in Manitoba face, and concludes it's not enough for most to make ends meet.
A study released Thursday describes the challenges minimum wage earners in Manitoba face, and concludes it's not enough for most to make ends meet. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A report released Thursday shines a light on the struggles of surviving on a minimum wage job in Manitoba, and concludes it is not enough to lift a person out of poverty, even when accounting for government transfers and subsidies.

Surviving on Minimum Wage: Lived Experiences of Manitoba Workers and Policy Implications details how many workers struggle to afford basic necessities such as rent and food while working on Manitoba’s $11.65/hr, the second-lowest wage in the country.

“This report clearly shows that workers earning minimum wage are just not earning enough to make ends meet, even with full-time hours,” said Jesse Hajer, one of the study’s authors in a news release.

Read more: The weird history of Manitoba’s minimum wage

“Other provinces have taken action to increase their minimum wages to levels that allow workers to meet their basic needs. Manitoba has fallen behind the rest of Canada, and that means thousands of minimum-wage earners and those who make just above it are falling behind too.”

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The authors interviewed 42 minimum wage-earning Manitobans who describe cycles of reconnection fees, late rent payments, and inadequate food and shelter.

Nearly four in 10 of those say they regularly use food banks or community meals, while 14 per cent receive food or money to buy food from friends and family.

Half say they struggle to pay rent, and one worker said they were homeless and living in a shelter.

Read more: Coronavirus: Basic income in Manitoba should be a right, not a privilege, says BIM chair

Calculations in the report show the shortfall between earnings and needs ranged from $999 to $19,247 depending on the family type, and many people struggle to balance necessities with “luxuries” like clothes or recreation.

“Many minimum wage workers are parents, everyday Manitobans, who are working hard to provide for their families, but Manitoba is falling behind on supporting these workers,” said Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour.

“No one should work full time but still struggle to make ends meet, but that’s exactly what’s happening to thousands of Manitoban workers because our minimum wage is far too low to pay the bills.”

Read more: Manitoba riding has highest child poverty rate in Canada: report

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The report says a $15/hr minimum wage would be enough to lift all the sample households above the Market Basket Measure (MBM) — Canada’s official poverty line — if that person worked full-time hours.

It concludes with three main recommendations:

  • Moderate increases to the minimum wage aren’t enough to keep people out of poverty, so it must be adjusted “significantly.”
  • Working conditions, including a lack of benefits, sick pay, and predictable scheduling, are negatively impacting minimum wage earners and must be addressed.
  • And the province must “meaningfully” address poverty by coming up with a solid, comprehensive plan.

Thursday’s report is a follow-up to a similar study, also released by the Manitoba branch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, in 2001, which similarly concluded the minimum wage was insufficient and didn’t reflect the actual cost of living.

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