The minimum wage in Quebec will increase from $13.50 to $14.25 per hour starting May 1.
Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity Jean Boulet made the announcement on Friday.
The increase affects approximately 301,000 workers, including 166,000 women, in sectors such as retail and food services.
For tipped employees, the minimum wage will rise from $10.80 to $11.40.
In an interview with The Canadian Press on Friday, the minister said he was meeting his target of keeping the minimum wage at about 50 per cent of the average hourly wage. The average hourly wage is projected to be $28.47.
Boulet said a minimum wage of $14.25 an hour is “a good balance” between the various economic and social factors that must be weighed.
“We must take into account the impact that the pandemic has had on many small and medium-sized businesses in Quebec, which have had to face extremely important issues in terms of maintaining or increasing their economic growth,” said Boulet.
“It must also be important enough to encourage work. At the same time, it must not cause people to drop out of school. I think we’ve struck a good balance.”
Quebec’s major labour organizations, which had been calling for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 for several years, have since raised their demand to $18 an hour. They argue that $18 an hour is the minimum to live with dignity.
When asked about this, the minister said he preferred to take it step by step. From $14.25 an hour on May 1, 2022, he believes he can raise it to $15 an hour on May 1, 2023, taking into account the province’s economic strength.
Ontario has already raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour on January 1.
Boulet argues that Quebec still has the best disposable income in Canada, thanks to its social safety net, subsidized child care and social solidarity tax credit, among other things.
Moreover, labour scarcity in many sectors of economic activity has already led to upward pressure on wages. Many employers have had to increase the wages they pay their employees or improve their working conditions in other ways, to keep them or to attract them.
A SLAP IN THE FACE
“It’s obvious that it’s not enough. It’s a bit of a slap in the face to low-wage earners,” said Virginie Larivière, spokesperson for the Collective for a Poverty-Free Quebec, which is a member of the Minimum18 coalition, in an interview.
“We have a labour shortage. Employers keep telling us that the government must do something to help employers find workers. However, the salary can be a clear indication of what it takes to encourage people to go to work,” said Larivière.
The Minimum18 coalition is campaigning for a minimum wage of $18 an hour to lift people out of poverty.
“At $14.25, we are far from the mark, even if we have a job all year round,” said Larivière, “given the recent increases in the price of groceries, gas, housing and other items.”
“IT’S GOING TO HURT” SMALL BUSINESSES
“It is certain that it will hurt businesses. We are in a situation where the majority of businesses are below their normal revenues because of COVID-19,” said Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses Quebec vice-president François Vincent.
“And that’s on top of an average debt load of $100,000 per small business and payroll taxes,” he said. “We think the government should help small businesses, especially by reducing payroll taxes.”
Vincent said he was “relieved” that the increase did not reach $18 per hour, as the Minimum18 coalition was demanding.
He said that would have been “disastrous” for small and medium-sized businesses.
This report by the Canadian Press was first published in French on Jan. 14, 2021.