As of the 1st of April, British Columbia has the lowest minimum wage in the country, despite being one of the most expensive places in the country in which to live; and that’s no April Fool’s joke, says the BC Federation of Labour (BCFL).
The BCFL says that a 2014 Labour Force survey puts the number of British Columbians working in minimum wage jobs at approximately 110,000 (2015 figures are not yet available). Some 61 per cent of these workers are women; 46 per cent are 25 or older; 49 per cent have been in their job for more than one year; and 13 per cent have university degrees.
A further 400,000 workers in the province are earning less than $15.00 per hour, an amount that would ensure the worker earned a “living wage” just above the poverty line. That is why the BCFL is joining other jurisdictions in North America in the “Fight for $15” campaign.
The number of workers in B.C. earning less than $15.00 an hour represents 27 per cent of the workforce, says BCFL President Irene Lanzinger. She notes that contrary to popular opinion, the majority of minimum wage earners work for companies with more than 100 employees. “Small businesses recognize the importance of keeping employees,” she says. They know the cost of employee turnover, how much it costs to live in the community, and value employee loyalty. Many large businesses, on the other hand, “make significant profits on the backs of workers making minimum wage. Having a minimum wage of $15.00 puts everyone on the same playing field.”
The demographics of who is earning the minimum wage have changed, with more seniors and women in low-paying jobs. The stereotype of young people working for minimum wage to save for a video game is wrong. “The B.C. government’s rationale on the minimum wage doesn’t make sense,” says Lanzinger. “They say these are entry-level jobs for kids living in their parents’ basements, but that’s not true.” She adds that students who are working in minimum wage jobs to pay for their education have seen tuition fees skyrocket in recent years, with no concomitant increase in their pay.
Seattle made headlines in 2014 for legislating a gradual rise to a $15.00 minimum wage, phased in over time. Since then other jurisdictions, including the states of California and New York, have followed suit, while in Canada the province of Alberta has announced that it will gradually raise its minimum wage from the current $11.20 an hour to $15.00 by 2018.
“British Columbia can find a model that fits,” says Lanzinger. “Right now it’s the only province that doesn’t have a poverty reduction plan, and the government can do something about that. Poverty has long-term costs, and we all pay those costs, in health, education, the criminal justice system.”
The BCFL is not saying that the province can or should go to a $15.00 wage overnight, but says the government needs to do what’s right. “If you work full time you shouldn’t have to work in poverty,” says Lanzinger. “Everyone working for those wages is struggling. And there’s no one working for minimum wage who wouldn’t benefit from a higher wage.”