No one happy about B.C.’s minimum wage increase

B.C. minimum wage debate heats up again
BC's minimum wage went up again today, but critics say it still leaves many working people under the poverty line, and they say the business argument that a higher minimum wage hurts the economy doesn't hold water.

As the minimum wage in B.C. gets raised 40 cents today, advocates on both sides of the argument are saying the government has made the wrong decision.

Business advocacy groups are arguing any increase to the minimum wage will only hurt businesses and negatively affect workers. Meanwhile, the BC Federation of Labour and other similar groups insist the increase to $10.85 per hour is not nearly enough to raise the average worker out of poverty.

“The raise of 40 cents to the minimum wage is completely inadequate to address the hundreds of thousands of workers who live in poverty in this province,” said Irene Lanzinger, president of the BC Federation of Labour.

“It will leave them working full-time and living in poverty, and that’s not fair.”

But Richard Truscott of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) says workers will only lose as a result of a minimum wage increase, as businesses will be forced to cover costs in other ways in order to balance their budgets.

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“Employers will look at reducing hours [for workers], they’ll perhaps defer an investment in new and safer equipment, maybe they’re not going to be hiring that additional person for the busy season–there’s all kinds of adjustments that have to be made,” said Truscott.

“They may even have to raise prices, if they can,” he added.

The raise lifts B.C. out of the bottom of the list in terms of minimum wage rates across the country, yet still doesn’t match the national average of $11.25 per hour.

The minimum wage for the liquor service industry will also be raised by 40 cents to $9.60 per hour, remaining lower than the regular minimum wage to account for gratuities.

Many groups, including Vancouver’s Living Wage for Families Campaign, are supporting the push for a $15 per hour minimum wage to better support families against the high cost of living in the province. The campaign is ultimately arguing for an even higher living wage for families, and have calculated the per person rate should be $20.64 per hour in Metro Vancouver alone.

The campaign’s organizer, Deanna Ogle, says other jurisdictions that have raised the minimum wage to $15 have only seen positive results.

“What we’re seeing in Seattle is that they moved towards a $15 minimum wage and their economy is thriving,” said Ogle. “And I think there’s an opportunity for us to do the same thing here.”

Lanzinger of the BC Federation of Labour cited Alberta and California as further examples of a $15 minimum wage being positive for the economy. However, Ian Tostenson of the British Columbia Restaurant and Food Services Federation also named Alberta as an example of the negative effects of such a raise.

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Tostenson also points out that any change to the minimum wage will not only cause businesses to feel pressure on their bottom line, but also impact young workers trying to get their foot in the door.

“A lot of people making minimum wage in a restaurant, it’s their first job,” he said. “They’re inexperienced, they’re living at home, going to school. You’ve got to be careful that you’re not making the minimum wage so high that employers are only looking for experienced people because they’re paying higher wages.”

So far, the only political party agreeing to make the $15 minimum wage a priority is the NDP, which has made the issue one of their key campaign promises ahead of the May 2017 election.

“In the most unaffordable city in the country, to have among the lowest minimum wages just doesn’t seem right to me,” NDP leader John Horgan said in regards to Vancouver. “We need to give our lowest-paid workers a significant raise. When we do that, they spend that money in the economy. They spend that money in communities.”

Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, understands the business concerns raised over the increase, but still supports the initiative.

“If you invest in your human capital, and you pay them a good wage, you’re going to be more productive and produce more for the bottom line of that business,” she said.

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Above all, Huberman says dialogue with businesses is key to success moving forward.

Next September, the B.C. government will be further increasing the minimum wage by another 40 cents, to $11.25 per hour. B.C. Jobs Minister Shirley Bond says a steady increasing strategy is best to ensure investment and job creation.

“We think it’s a responsible approach to continue to incrementally and reasonably increase the minimum wage,” said Bond.

Horgan of the NDP argues he would also use an incremental approach to reach $15 within his first term if he were to be elected premier.

For Lanzinger of the BC Federation of Labour, the minimum wage should be a key issue for voters next May.

“The actions of the [Christy] Clark government–indeed the lack of action–defines the choices that we have in the election,” she said.

With files from the Canadian Press.