Minimum wage board first met in P.A.

Ruth Griffiths

On this day (June 9) in 1919 Saskatchewan’s Minimum Wage Board held its first session in Prince Albert. The Saskatchewan minimum wage laws had only been passed that year, following a trend begun in Manitoba and British Columbia.
McMaster University has archived this excerpt from the Labour Gazette of September 1920: “The administration of the law is in the hands of a board of five members, two of whom are women, appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor in council.”
The inclusion of women on the board was significant because the laws were first enacted to protect girls and women in the labour force.
The Government of Canada defines “minimum wage” as a basic labour standard that sets the lowest wage rate that an employer can pay to employees who are covered by the legislation.
According to the McMaster University article, “In British Columbia all employed women, except fruit pickers, farm labourers and domestic servants, are protected. These two latter classes are exempt in Ontario also. In Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan, all female employees in shops and factories in cities are included, and the boards may, at their discretion, extend the scope of the law to other parts of the province.
The 1920 article goes on to say, “Rules for restaurant employees provide, in all these provinces, for a 48-hour week, and in Manitoba and Saskatchewan for a ten-hour day. In the latter province a maximum of fifty-six hours per week is allowed in any restaurant which is open seven days a week, but all time in excess of forty-eight hours is regarded as overtime. Otherwise overtime is allowed in cases of emergency only.”
The reality was that a majority of working women were not covered by early minimum wage legislation. Domestics and farm labourers were exempt.
An article by J.W. Warren in Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan states: “Women formed a low-paid minority of the labour force during the early decades of the 20th century. The traditional values of the time viewed motherhood and homemaking as the appropriate roles of women. Indeed, when women had to take jobs it was seen as a sign of societal failure, or a dire necessity in the case of widows or women whose husbands were unemployed. Young women were considered eligible to perform wage labour in order to support a poor family or to earn pin money until such time as they found a husband and left both their parents’ homes and the workforce. With limited knowledge or means of birth control, larger families were the norm, and working-class women of childbearing age typically had enough on their hands to make paid work something they sought only out of serious economic necessity. The reality was that many women needed to work. Many young women of limited means left the Dickensian poverty of the industrialized cities of Canada, Britain, and Europe to take low-paid work as domestic servants on the Prairies. Affluent rural and urban families paid very little for the services of girls who worked unlimited hours with few days off. The province’s first Minimum Wage Act, passed in 1919, applied only to female workers: it excluded domestic servants, even though these accounted for most of the women working at the time.”
The jurisdiction of the Minimum Wage Board went beyond wages in Saskatchewan. It extended to hours and conditions of labour as well as to wages, but any rules they made concerning hours and sanitary requirements of female workers were subject to the provisions of the Factories Acts which governed working conditions for men.
Like most social revolutions, the concept of minimum wage started small, but it’s exciting to think that it started here in Prince Albert 103 years ago today.