Top News

NL Votes 2019: Government needs to put more cash in pockets of N.L.'s low- and middle-income earners, advocates say

Mary Short, President of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour
Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour president Mary Shortall - SaltWire file photo

When times are tight…

MARYSTOWN, N.L. —

Burnette Diamond knows the challenges of making ends meet when you’re not among Newfoundland and Labrador’s high-income earners.

Last year, before she was involved in a car accident that complicated her financial situation further, Diamond, who lives in Lewisporte, was working four jobs – three of them in home care, another tending bar.

“I went to work at 9 o’clock in the morning and I finished at 2 a.m.,” the single mother of four – two of them grown – recently told SaltWire Network.

Diamond, who said she doesn’t receive child support, was working up to 76 hours a week and was still only “just making it, really.”

Diamond said her children rarely saw her.

“I was gone all the time. They were either with my parents or I was paying a babysitter,” she said.

After she squared away her rent and bills for the month, there still wasn’t much left, Diamond said. From what she’s seen, her situation wasn’t unique in her area; quite a few people struggle to get by.

About choices

Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour (NLFL), said there are 70,000 workers in the province who earn less than $15 per hour.

That’s a sizable chunk of the labour force, she says.

As well, given the high unemployment rate, people will take jobs at lower salaries because they have little other choice, Shortall says, adding the market isn’t inclined to boost wages when there is a large group of people it can rely on to work for less.

In April, the minimum wage in Newfoundland and Labrador increased from $11.15/hour to $11.40.

Diamond says she was making around $17/hour for her home-care jobs, but still having difficulties.

Shortall says the challenge is the majority of low-income earners are adults and women – people who need higher wages in order to sustain a healthy economy – and not teenagers working for pocket money.

“We have workers who aren’t making enough money and not paying enough taxes and then we have a big gap between women’s and men’s wages, but we also have a big gap between the rich and the poor, and the rich are not paying their fair share,” Shortall says.

“Ordinary citizens will say that they’re overtaxed, but in fact, they’re not really overtaxed because we need those services. It’s just the way that the taxes are handed out that they pay a disproportionate percentage of it and the rich people pay a lot less than they should.”

Shortall says putting money in people’s pockets will assist local businesses and help sustain communities.

One thing government could do, Shortall suggests, is tie small business taxes to job creation, like other provinces.

“If you create more jobs, you pay less business tax,” she says.

“Government will say often that they don’t have any choices, that we’re in a fiscal crisis and there’s nothing they can do, but it’s about the choices that they make. Relying on oil companies, for example, to create jobs is not maybe the best strategy to have.”

Breaking the cycle

Alyse Stuart, chair of Common Front NL, a coalition of labour, social justice and community groups in the province, agrees Newfoundland and Labrador’s low minimum wage, even after the recent increase, is problematic.

“A lot of the concerns that we’re getting from lower- and middle-income people is just that they can’t afford to live in this province,” Stuart says.

Tax relief, like the change to auto insurance in the recent provincial budget is fine, Stuart says, but piecemeal reform doesn’t address the larger structural issues.

As for the push towards a $15/hour minimum wage, Stuart says there is benefit in coming after another jurisdiction – Alberta – which has already made that move.

The predicted doom and gloom that usually accompanyies a suggestion of raising the minimum wage did not materialize in that western province. The reverse was actually true, according to Stuart, referring to job growth.

Stuart says there needs to be a bigger vision for breaking the cycle of poverty that includes affordable housing and affordable child care, as well.

“If we can break these cycles earlier, we’ll be a more successful society, economically and socially,” she said.

paul.herridge@southerngazette.ca

Recent Stories