The Northwest Territories minimum wage will increase to $13.46 – a rise of 96 cents per hour – from April 1, 2018.
The move will make the territory’s minimum wage the third-highest in Canada at the time it is introduced. However, the change falls short of a newly launched campaign from the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) northern region, calling for a minimum of $15 per hour to be introduced by 2019.
"It is high time that our territorial governments act to ensure our workers are not left behind, especially as it costs more to live in the North than the rest of Canada," wrote Jack Bourassa, representing the PSAC union's 16,000 northern members, in Wednesday's edition of the Yellowknifer newspaper.
However, the territorial government feels a minimum wage of $13.46 – one of three options put forward by a committee last year – strikes the best balance, for now, between the needs of employees and employers.
Around 700 workers are thought by the territorial government to be earning the minimum wage in the NWT.
In a news release, employment minister Alfred Moses said the increase was "both good for workers, who will earn a better wage, and for business, which will be able to better attract workers for minimum wage positions."
The territory's minimum wage is decided based on the work of a committee formed every two years from members of the NWT Chamber of Commerce, YWCA NWT, the Northern Territories Federation of Labour, Alternatives North, regional small business, and the Department of Education, Culture and Employment.
In a confidential 2016 report, that committee presented three options: no change to the $12.50 hourly rate set three years ago, an increase to $13.46, or an increase to $14.95.
The territorial government chose the middle option based on a measure known as the average industrial hourly wage.
Andy Bevan, the territory's assistant deputy minister for labour and income security, said a minimum wage exceeding half of the average industrial hourly wage can lead to job losses as employers struggle to pay staff.
$13.46 per hour represents 45 percent of the NWT's average industrial hourly wage, according to the territorial government. "We're confident that will not lead to any significant employment loss," said Bevan.
Though no economic impact study was conducted prior to this announcement, Bevan said the last increase – which established the $12.50 hourly rate in 2015 – "had basically no impacts from an employment perspective."
Ontario presently boasts the country's highest minimum wage at $14 per hour, with Alberta offering $13.60 per hour. Both jurisdictions intend to increase that to $15 within the next year. British Columbia, by contrast, recently scrapped its commitment to introduce a $15 minimum wage by 2021.
Bevan, implying Ontario's minimum wage strategy is too risky for the NWT, said: "Their increase to $14 represents about 60 percent of the average industrial hourly wage in Ontario. The evidence would suggest that 50 percent or more can have tangible consequences around employment."
The NWT's planned increase does not affect the territorial government itself, which has no employees earning the minimum wage. Territorial government internships begin at just over $28 per hour according to published figures, with the majority of interns earning around $35 per hour.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada will launch a petition this month – ahead of the next sitting of the territorial legislature, in February – urging the territory to reach a $15 per hour minimum by 2019.