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There are many truths that have been laid bare through the COVID-19 crisis. We have learned that many people can do their work from home. We have learned that jobs, which countless people have belittled and dismissed in the past are, in fact, essential to the functioning of our lives. Perhaps most significant, we have learned that government responds to pressure and will put money on the table when it comes to directing emergency spending. We have yet to find out what the true financial fallout of COVID-19 will be, but if every other crisis is any indication, we do know that the business community is lobbying government hard and that bailout money for businesses is coming, if it hasn’t already arrived.

Workers in low-wage jobs have gotten used to feeling expendable long ago, but in the time of a global pandemic, even more so. From the onset of COVID-19 to the present recovery struggles, workers have clearly been the canary in the mine shaft. The recovery efforts by the government so far appear to be more about profit rather than safety.

Many workers are working and living in fear – the fear of balancing their health with financial necessity. Add to the mix companies that do not offer sick pay and we see workers who are hesitant to report illness because that would mean losing money they may need to pay rent or for their next meal.


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On May 26th, the Prime Minister voiced his support for 10 days of paid sick leave for all workers. While this is clearly a step in the right direction, at the moment it is nothing more than lip service, as no details were given and the announcement was overshadowed by political parties vying for credit.

The premise is simple – unpaid sick time is at all times negligible, but in times of a global pandemic it becomes downright deadly.

While the 10 days paid sick leave proposed by the Prime Minister is a starting point it should be noted that it is nowhere near enough for a worker who may fall ill with COVID-19 or may need to tend to a family member. Until this proposal is realized we are at the mercy of the current system.

Saskatchewan does not mandate paid sick time for workers, however, on March 19th the Saskatchewan government expanded labour laws to include a new public health emergency leave. Applied retroactively to March 6th, this leave is meant to provide job protection in the event a worker must self-isolate or has to care for a family member in similar circumstances.

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The Government of Saskatchewan, in partnership with the Government of Canada, introduced a temporary wage supplement of $400 for each four-week period, up to 16 weeks, for the period from March 15, 2020 to July 4, 2020.  To be eligible, a worker must earn a wage less than $24.00 per hour at an eligible essential care facility, in the four-week period for which the worker has applied for the supplement.

An eligible worker must also have total earnings less than $2,500, including earnings from work outside an eligible essential care facility, in the four-week period for which the worker has applied for the supplement. Aside from confusing people with its numerous, somewhat contradictory criteria, here is why we think this amounts to the Saskatchewan Government saying “We would pay you less if it wasn’t for this darned pandemic”.

This is limited to essential care industries only. This begs the question why? Well if you look at the trends in wages in frontline “essential” customer service, you see a lot of weird pay arrangements like “hazard pay” and “pandemic pay” being thrown around. In many cases, these pay arrangements act to increase starting wage rates above $15.00 per hour.

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In this global pandemic it is now apparent that society functions on the backs of essential workers that have held the frontline while we fight COVID-19. Giving these essential workers a livable wage is not only the right thing to do economically but also the moral thing.

The Fight for 15 campaign is built upon 3 demands that we will examine over the next 3 weeks.

DEMAND #1- Recognizing the value of and risk being taken by low wage frontline service workers, especially those risking their health to take care of ours in areas deemed essential by permanently and immediately increasing Saskatchewan’s minimum wage to $15.15/hr.

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On October 28, at the Sask NDP convention, Trent Wotherspoon committed to legislating a $15 minimum wage if elected premier during the leadership debate.

We now have both NDP leadership candidates committed to a $15 wage in Saskatchewan! We must keep the pressure up, and push them to commit to do so within a timeline that helps families immediately.  So far we haven’t heard of any of the Sask Party candidates promising remotely the same.

Just this last, minimum wage was raised to $10.96/hour.  We went from the lowest minimum wage in Canada to the second lowest.  Average wages in Canada, as of April 2017 is $27.95. Canada, we can do better.  Saskatchewan, we can do better.  A minimum wage of $15 would equate to $31,200 a year.  $15 wages could change lives of minimum wage earners in a huge way.

Call on your Sask Party leadership candidates today and challenge them to commit to $15 minimum wage!

Scott Moe

Ken Cheveldayoff

Tina Beaudry-Mellor

Alanna Koch

Gord Wyant

Rob Clarke

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Principles for a decent minimum wage:

  • No worker should live on poverty wages.
  • Minimum wage earners should earn wages that are at least 10% above the poverty line
  • The minimum wage should increase each year to keep pace with rising prices.
  • All workers need a $15 minimum wage now!

Poverty in Saskatchewan

One in ten people living in Saskatchewan lives in poverty – this adds up to a roughly 110, 000 people who struggle each and every day to make ends meet. The Saskatchewan Government has released a Poverty Reduction Strategy, but the strategy does not include an increase to the minimum wage or acknowledge the need for a living wage.

Based on CCPA’s Fight for $15 Min Wage report, 20% (96,000 workers) in Saskatchewan make less than $15/hour.

Child Poverty in Saskatchewan is Staggering

One in four children in Saskatchewan live in poverty. Our child poverty rate has increased over the past 25 years, to the point that it is the second worst in Canada and on the same level with middle-income countries like Romania.

Poverty Does Not Impact People Equally

Saskatchewan has the highest First Nations child poverty rates in all of Canada – an appalling 64% of status First Nations children live in poverty in this province.

People with disabilities, newcomers, single mothers, senior women living alone, and Aboriginal people are more likely to be poor. It is therefore not surprising to find the connection of those who work in low-wage jobs: in Saskatchewan, the majority of people who earn less than $15/hour are women and across Canada, wage gaps are attributed to race, gender, sexual expression, and nationality.

The Minimum Wage Is Not Enough

The Market Basket Measure (MBM) low-income line for a family of four living in Saskatoon is $34,897. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) calculates that a family of four with two children needs an income of about $60,000 – that’s because the MBM does not take into account needs such as childcare, education, and dental care – the kind of things that are accounted for with a living wage.

For a parent working full time at Saskatchewan’s current minimum wage of $10.96/hour, minimum wage pays just over $20,800 per year – that’s roughly $15,000 below the poverty line for a family of four, or $40, 000 below the poverty line in more fair methods of measuring  income (such as the living wage method). While the minimum wage has increased annually over the past, these increases are insufficient to keep many families with children out of poverty.

The problem with Saskatchewan’ minimum wage, supposedly meant to reflect the rising cost of living, is that the base wage is not sufficient. In the Minimum Wage Regulations, 2014, it is noted that the base rate of the indexation is $10/hour. It is clear that this base rate did not measure need as so many working people in Saskatchewan continue to live in poverty while working – evidently, Saskatchewan’s indexation calculation is ineffective.

Clear Examples:

Roughly 31,400 people used a food bank in Saskatchewan as of  November, 2016; an increase of 77% since 2008. Food bank use is not just a big city problem: there are 28 food banks in Saskatchewan, most of them located in smaller cities and towns.  Peter Gilmer, Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry said that the problem is partly from not having adequate increase to income for low-income people during the boom.  15% of food patrons are employed.

Saskatchewan food bank users:

  • 45% are children under 18 – the highest percentage in Canada
  • 18% have wages as their main source of income – a glimpse into the fact that many users are the working poor. This figure does not include the many food bank users who have some employment income but who depend mainly on social assistance, pensions, or student assistance.

Poverty Isn’t Cheap

Poverty Costs calculated that, “the cost of poverty in Saskatchewan in 2010 was $3.8 billion in heightened service use and missed opportunities. In that year, Saskatchewan’s gross domestic product was $66 billion. This means that the cost of poverty to our province in 2010 was well over 5% of our GDP.”

Inequality Is Shameful

It is important to understand that the richest 62 people are as wealthy as half of world’s population – 3.6 billion people. In Canada, 86 Canadians have as much as 11.4 million people. It is clear that the 1% aren’t tightening any belts: the average salary of a top 100 CEO is 184 times that of the average Canadian.

So while those earning the minimum wage struggle to make ends meet, the rich keep getting richer.

We Can Win

Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is an effective and important step in addressing poverty and ensuring a better distribution of wealth. Across the U.S. and Canada, workers are coming together to Fight for 15 – and they’re winning – let’s join the fight.

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