© ERIN POTTIE/CAPE BRETON POST
Workers in the food, accommodation and service industries welcomed an increase in the minimum wage announced by the province Monday. Shown is James Johnstone, a server at Governors Pub & Eatery in Sydney.
SYDNEY — Minimum wage earners in Nova Scotia received a raise Monday, the fourth such increase since 2010.
The provincial minimum increased Monday by 1.5 per cent to $10.30 an hour, while the wage for someone who has less than three months of experience also increased to $9.80 an hour.
Nova Scotia now has the highest minimum wage in Atlantic Canada, and one of the highest in the country, behind Nunavut and the Yukon.
While the increase is sure to put a smile on the face of workers, some small business owners are sporting a frown as they try to keep their heads above water in an economy that is producing less-than-stellar results.
“This will hurt a lot of rural businesses,” said Parker Stone, president of the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce.
Stone said island business owners are faced with some of the highest business taxes in the country while trying to generate revenue in a region plagued with double-digit unemployment.
For many business owners in the Strait area, the past two years have not produced a wealth of business opportunities, stemming largely from the closure of the community paper mill. The mill has reopened with a reduced workforce and reduced salaries.
There was also the closure of a call centre and reductions in other businesses.
“It has been a tough winter,” said Stone, noting this year’s winter was colder than most, which adds yet another stress on workers who already pay the highest electrical rates in the country.
Stone, who operates hardware stores in Port Hawkesbury and St. Peter’s, said while he is expecting to see an increase in new home construction this year, the same can’t be said for the home renovation market.
“At the end of the day, the sun will shine and we will survive but these won’t be easy times,” he said.
A person earning the minimum wage and working a 40-hour week will earn a gross pay of just over $21,000 per year. Minimum wage increases now occur annually and are based on the previous year’s national consumer price index.
The increase was a recommendation to government from the minimum wage review committee, which includes representatives from business and labour. The committee filed its report in January and its recommendation was accepted by the provincial government.
In its report, the committee noted that in 2011, an estimated 23,600 employees earned minimum wage in Nova Scotia, which represents about six per cent of workers.
The majority of such workers are in the retail sector followed by food and accommodation industries and most are under the age of 25.
The committee noted that most work part time and go to school full time, and that a high proportion of minimum wage earners are living with their parents.
Almost two-thirds are women and very few minimum wage workers are unionized.
As of the end of last December, minimum wage offerings in Alberta were $9.75 — the lowest in the country — while British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario were at $10.25.