New Brunswick — Grocery store clerks, fast food cooks and baristas were once considered expendable pawns in a vast economic machine. Due to Covid-19, that machine has lurched to a standstill, yet everyone still needs essential services.
Now those cashiers are the heroes toiling a hair’s breadth from the novel coronavirus so that everyone can still eat. It is fitting, therefore, that New Brunswick, along with Newfoundland and the Yukon, are going ahead with a planned minimum wage increase on April 1. In New Brunswick, it’s 20 cents, providing a long-overdue and much-needed windfall to these deserving guardians of the public interest.
Let’s break down the tangible benefits of this almost-too-generous-to-be-believed dividend.
Most minimum wage earners are renters. Assuming a rent of $800 per month, at 40 hours per week the minimum wage employee can subtract a whopping four percent of their monthly rent from this impressive cash surge. In the entertainment category, that’s like getting three and a half months of Disney Plus, two months of Netflix, or one visit to the movies, for one person, per month.
If groceries are the bill that’s killing you, this benefit, weekly, gives you the equivalent of 6.8 extra cans of Campbell’s soup (almost one a day) or one 12-pack of double-roll toilet paper, assuming you can find any. At NB Liquor, the new bonus, monthly, will cover about 70 percent of the cost of a two-four of Molson, or a little more than 100% of the cost of a 40-ouncer of Royal Reserve whisky; and if you’re a minimum-wage coffee drinker, you can now count on four extra double-doubles per week.
Needless to say, low-earning New Brunswickers are bursting with joy.
“There’s been so many times I’ve thought an extra 30 or 35 dollars a month would be a game-changer,” says Carmen McKinley who stocks shelves at the Connell Road Walmart in Woodstock. “I can balance the budget, and me and my kids will have enough left over for some craft supplies.”
Rowan Stubbert, a business student working part-time at Moncton’s Champlain Mall to pay for his MBA, lauds the wage hike as a particular victory for students.
“It sure is ironic that [the Higgs government] chose April 1st for the date of the wage increase. I mean…yeah, you expect a Conservative government to be joking when they say that we’re to be getting a whole extra 20 cents, not per month, not per week, but per hour. That’s seven or eight dollars a week! You may not think that sounds like much, but in 1900 that would have bought you a brand new suit and tie, or at least a sports jacket. Nowadays, it still adds up.”
Many other New Brunswick minimum-wage earners are seeing this increase as badge of honour, giving them a tangible token of respect for the work they’re doing through the coronavirus pandemic.
“Really, it’s like we’re getting danger pay,” said Sharon Brewer, who works drive-thru at the Woodstock Road Tim Hortons in Fredericton. “A lot of people in Canada are paying lip service respect to the frontline workers who’re keeping the groceries rolling and the coffee brewing, but now there’s something real, from the government, that makes us feel like we’re actually getting the credit we’re due.
“It’s like someone coming to the drive-thru and handing you like…a whole toonie, every single day. That’s really incredible!”