As of April 1, 2016 British Columbia had the lowest minimum wage in the country. Perhaps stung by criticism of this fact in light of the province’s strong economy, the provincial government announced last week that the minimum wage will be increasing by 40 cents in September 2016, taking it to $10.85 an hour.
The province had tied the increase in the minimum wage to the annual provincial Consumer Price Index (CPI), which originally meant that the rate was set to go up by 10 cents in September. With the province expected to lead the country’s economic growth both this year and next, the additional 30 cents has been added, says Premier Christy Clark, to share the province’s economic growth and “create a fairer, more just society”.
The 2017 CPI was expected to add another 10 cents to the minimum wage, but the government has announced that it will be increased by 40 cents in September 2017. That would mean a minimum wage of $11.25; the third highest in the country.
“We say it’s not enough,” says B.C. Federation of Labour (BCFL) president Irene Lanzinger. “At $10.85 an hour it means that someone working full time for minimum wage will still be $5,500 below the poverty level. We say—and 83 per cent of B.C. residents agree—that people should be making a living wage.”
She believes that the BCFL’s campaign pushing for a $15 minimum wage in B.C. put some pressure on the government, but their response is still not good enough. She also notes that the BCFL is opposed to the fact that workers who serve alcohol—such as bartenders and many servers—make $1.25 less than the minimum wage, because they are earning tips.
“There should be one minimum wage for everyone,” says Lanzinger, noting that employers should not be relying on the public to pay wages. She adds that many servers have to share their tips with non-tip-earning staff, tips are down, and tip theft is an issue. The system is also open to abuse by employers: if a server who usually works the breakfast shift (where alcohol is not served) works one later shift (where alcohol is served) in a week, she or he is paid at the lower rate for all hours worked.
Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart admits that the issue is a tough one. “Considering that our province has the leading economy in the country, we should look at the minimum wage and make sure those workers are sharing in that.” She says that the Liberal government is committed to ensuring that those at the bottom end of the wage scale get consideration, but isn’t sure that a $15 minimum wage is the best solution at this time.
“There are two sides to the story. We need to work with businesses and find a balance so we can still afford to have jobs available.”
Lanzinger notes that studies show low wage workers spend more of their money in their local community. “Higher wages are better for workers, better for the community, and better for the economy.”