$15/hour minimum wage ‘just doesn’t cut it’ amid rising cost of living, union organizer says at labour march

Hundreds walked from near the Manitoba Legislature down Portage Avenue on Monday for the annual Labour Day March & Picnic in Winnipeg.

Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, said the day was about celebrating gains made by the labour movement, as well as highlighting areas where there is still room for advancement in the fight for workers’ rights.

The labour organization wants the Stefanson government to consider going beyond its recent $15-hour minimum wage increase commitment amid the rising cost of living due to inflation.

“I have to admit, if you told me back in 2016 that this government was going to make minimum wage $15 an hour, I would’ve been happy then,” Rebeck told a crowd of supporters.

“But we’ve seen inflation and the increases to the cost of living since then and that just doesn’t cut it…What families are facing, a living wage is closer to $20 than $15.”

The MFL is calling on the Workers Compensation Board to make mental health injuries in the workplace eligible for coverage in the same way it does physical injuries.

Rebeck said the organization is also focused on getting government to enshrine into law the right for every worker to have 10 paid sick days per year.

“COVID-19 has highlighted just how unfair it is to force workers to choose between working sick or being unable to put food on the table because they did the right thing and stayed home when they were sick,” he said.

The pandemic has also led to an exodus of health-care workers from the public system, unlike anything the president of the Manitoba Nurses Union says she’s seen in over four decades of nursing.

Participants marched from Memorial Park down Portage Avenue before stopping at Vimy Ridge Park for a community picnic. (Anne-Charlotte Carignan/Radio-Canada)

“We are seeing nurses fleeing the public system and going to the privatized nursing agencies, and make no mistake: nursing agencies are private companies and this government is embracing the use of private companies,” Darlene Jackson told the crowd.

She said there is a critical staffing shortage in nursing and other corners of the public system tied to a rise in overtime worked in the past few years.

“The public system is an amazing system,” she said. “It needs to be supported by government and it is a system that we need in this province to keep health-care universal and publicly funded.”

Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, there is an exit of public-system nurses to private nursing agencies after a trying few years on the frontlines during the pandemic. (Anne-Charlotte Carigna/Radio-Canada)

NDP Leader Wab Kinew accused the provincial government of not doing enough through summer to help inflation-affected Manitoba families by lowering certain costs. Kinew said an NDP government would do that by finding ways of easing Manitoba Hydro bills for ratepayers. 

Kinew also suggested that a recent suite of affordability measures announced by Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson — including sending about 145,000 families $440 on average — missed the mark.

“For other costs of living that you face, whether it’s at the pump or at the grocery store, the government could take action and instead they seem to be trying to buy your support rather than actually taking steps to make your life more affordable,” he said. 

Mayoral candidate Glen Murray was also present for the event. A coalition of unions endorsed him last month. 

Murray said he supports the labour movement because they’re “on the frontline of keeping our services —  especially in the city, our pools, our recreational facilities open, our libraries open — and they’re all very badly cut back now.”

Winnipeg’s municipal election takes place Oct. 26. The next provincial election is Oct. 3, 2023.