News / Halifax

'I'd rather be ethical:' Small business owners weigh in on the right wage

Fair Wage Nova Scotia Coalition petitions for minimum wage increases on Spring Garden Road last month.

Metro Halifax file photo

Fair Wage Nova Scotia Coalition petitions for minimum wage increases on Spring Garden Road last month.

While small business owners often argue wage increases would run them into the ground, one Halifax shop owner says it’s “ethical” to pay employees more than the minimum.

Shelby Lendrum, owner of the eco-friendly P’lovers store, said she’s always paid her staff at least 50 cents above minimum wage, and has some employees at $14 and $15 an hour because the current $10.70 an hour doesn’t cut it.

“If you can’t afford staff then work it yourself. If you can’t afford to work it, then it’s not a viable business and shut your doors,” Lendrum said Monday when asked about the NDP’s proposed $15 an hour minimum wage bill.

“But starving your staff with the backing of your government doesn’t seem like the right answer.”

Lendrum said keeping wages high makes sense in a province that continues to lose recent graduates to places with better minimum wages.

“If you pay them to the point where they just keep racking up debt and they have to leave on the first job west, that’s what they’re going to do,”  Lendrum said.

But chef and owner of the French Fix Patisserie in downtown Halifax, Geoffroy Chevallier, said any increase in the payroll means a bump in taxes and “we wouldn’t be able to afford that.”

Although the NDP’s bill could have exemptions for small businesses, Chevallier said a large increase in wages would still be a big loss for hotels and other companies, likely meaning higher prices for consumers.

“$15 an hour, that’s a lot,” Chevallier said.

Lendrum said although she’d like to see big businesses pay higher wages and taxes because they can afford it, all minimum wage employees should still be paid more since the reason of wage increases hurting a business are never the only factor - high property taxes, the rising cost of goods, and rent in Halifax play a part.

“A coffee can cost you an hours wages in downtown Halifax now, that’s crazy. You’re saying that they’re not worth a coffee? Really?” Lendrum said.

“I’d rather be ethical and go out of business, than be profitable and unethical.”

Current minimum wage has students working multiple jobs

For the first time Hailey Coleman said she took on a part-time job during the school year.

The 21-year-old Dalhousie University student also works two jobs during the summer near her hometown of London, Ontario.

“It’s just way too expensive with tuition and whatnot and all the other expenses you have,” the third-year business management student said.

The 10-hour-a-week job in athletics at Dalhousie University helped pay for the cost of going to school, she said.

Coleman said she’s lucky to have her parents help her, but it isn’t ideal.  

“They definitely helped me out a lot, however if there was a way that you didn’t have to by increasing minimum wage then yeah that would definitely be a much better option,” she said in a phone interview Monday afternoon.

Where Coleman has her parents, many students rely on loans from the government.  

Charlotte Kiddell, chairperson-elect for The Canadian Federation of Students, said raising Nova Scotia’s minimum wage to $15 an hour would be a good step towards making student life more manageable.  

“The majority of students are working while they’re in school and most of the time students are working minimum wage positions in order to afford their post-secondary education degree,” Kiddell said.

She added the inexperienced minimum wage legislation - $10.20 for people who have worked at a job for less than three months and have less than three months total experience in that type of work - is especially hurtful to students.

“If a student is working a summer job that means they’re paying this reduced wage for the majority of their position,” she said.

“It’s impossible now to be working full-time at minimum wage and be having the quality of life that one should experience.” - Olivia Carey, For Metro

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