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The rent is too damn high, the pay is too damn low: Coalition says recent minimum wage raise not enough

See video of press conference here.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A spectrum of civil society and labour groups responded to the inadequacy of the 40 cent minimum wage raise today.

“It is quite fitting that this minimum wage increase is happening on April 1, because it really is a joke,” said Hailie Tattrie with the Fight for $15 & Fairness Halifax. She immediately followed up by listing the living wages calculated for Cape Breton ($16.88), Antigonish ($19.55) and Halifax ($21.80).

“Our $12.95 comes not even close to a living wage in this province. Workers in Nova Scotians deserve better; They deserve better wages; they deserve better working conditions, they deserve paid sick days; They deserve a fair wage.”

“The low wages in this province have contributed to poor health outcomes and they have created vulnerable populations,” said Chris Parsons, the provincial coordinator with the Nova Scotia Health Coalition. The Coalition has joined the call for a higher minimum wage and improved worker standards, in particular emphasizing the call for paid sick days.

“The best thing we can do for our public health system is to prevent people from getting sick in the first place. And one of the best ways to do that is to simply provide them with the resources they need, be that shelter, be that food, be that recreation opportunities, as well as just reducing the stress of trying to go through the day having your basic needs met,” explained Parsons.

“We believe that no one should live in poverty, but especially those who are working minimum wage jobs have every reason to expect that they will not be living in poverty,” said Hannah Wood from ACORN Nova Scotia, a union of low and moderate income tenants. “While we have called a lot of minimum wage service workers heroes, we are not paying them a hero’s pay.”

Woods noted the Statistics Canada figure that 32.6% of minimum wage workers in Nova Scotia are over the age 35, countering the narrative that these are jobs for high school students who do not need to support families. “As well, a disproportionate amount of minimum wage workers are women and radicalized people and Indigenous workers, and these poverty wages further intrench these communities into cycles of poverty,” Woods explained while noting that the cost of living has increased by huge margins in recent years, especially with respect to housing costs.

For Darius Mirshahi, who works as an organizer with Justice for Janitors, it is his job to reach out to many of these low wage workers.

“I speak to workers who don’t think they’ll ever get to retire, making close to minimum wage still after decades of essential front-line work as cleaners. I speak to workers often in person, because when you can’t cover all your bills, you’ll cut off your cell phone and your social connection to keep your roof and running water. I speak to workers who haven’t seen a dentist in a decade because they can barely afford to buy groceries. The rent is too damn high, the pay is too damn low, and the people are being squeezed from every direction,” Mirshahi explained.  

He applauded the fact that Nova Scotia’s Minimum Wage review committee recently expressed concerns about the demographics of minimum wage workers, suggesting that a “diversity and inclusion” lens be adopted for setting the minimum wage, but Mirshahi emphasized the need to “apply that lens to the entire labor code.”  

“We have not only a poverty in pay, but a poverty of rights.”

“The most important thing Nova Scotia can do to support janitors in this province is to follow the lead of Quebec, Ontario, and BC and extend successorship rights to contracted service employees. This gives workers a meaningful and realistic path to becoming organized and the stability necessary to be able to negotiate for fair wages and better conditions at their workplace like other workers in the province.  It puts an end to the chaos and arbitrariness of contract-flipping and preemptively resolves workplace conflicts through good and functional policy.”

See also: Big News: Minimum wage goes up 40 cents as of April 1

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