Business not sold on minimum wage hike

After 10 years of no increases B.C.’s lowest earners will be making more money as of May 1, according to the province’s new leader.

  • Mar. 17, 2011 1:00 p.m.

After 10 years of no increases B.C.’s lowest earners will be making more money as of May 1, according to the province’s new leader.

Speaking after her first cabinet meeting, Premier Christy Clark announced Wednesday that B.C.’s minimum wage, currently the lowest in the country, will increase incrementally from $8 an hour to $8.75 on May 1, to $9.50 on Nov. 1 and then to $10.25 on May 1, 2012.

A lower standard will be set for restaurant and bar employees who serve alcohol, maxing out at $9 an hour on May 1, 2012 — a measure, said Clark, to reflect the fact that people in those positions earn tips that are often more than their wage. In addition, the $6 an hour training wage will be eliminated as of May 1.

“(The changes are) a fair and reasonable step forward in putting families first and building our economy,” said Clark. “This increase could mean more than $4,000 additional (income) annually for a full-time employee, providing more support to B.C. workers and the families who depend on them.”

Penticton MLA Bill Barisoff said a lot of constituents in the riding expressed concern to him that B.C. has the lowest minimum wage in Canada.

“A lot of people in the area have told me they think it should be at least increased somewhat,” Barisoff said, noting that minus the restaurant and bar servers under three per cent of the work force actually earns minimum wage.

“There is certainly the fear that (the increase could have a negative affect on the economy) but I guess looking in from the other side is the fact that we have to be within comparison of the rest of Canada.”

Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce president Jason Cox said because minimum wage is used as a baseline, the increases will have an inflationary affect on salaries across the board.

“If you have an unskilled labourer making minimum wage, their skilled counterpart across the hall or across the room is going to need a reciprocal increase as well to maintain that value differential,” he said.

According to Cox, the chamber would have preferred a smaller increase over a longer period of time.

“A 20-per-cent jump in your base wage is obviously going to affect the expense of the business,” said Cox. “We understand that the cost of living continues to increase and that our minimum wage in the province is low compared to other jurisdictions, but such a drastic increase so quickly is certainly going to hurt some local businesses.”

Cherry Lane shopping centre general manager Gary Leaman said he expects the change will affect businesses at the centre.

“There are about 600 workers in the building, many of whom operate at or near the minimum wage levels, so it will definitely have an effect on salaries. This will have an effect on profits which of course affects the bottom line, so it will likely affect prices across the board on retail,” said Leaman. “Some retailers will have to redo their staffing levels. Many times they will have a full-time staff and a part-time staff in the course of the day and they may have to juggle their schedules if it has a significant effect on them.”

However, NDP critic Shane Simpson, whose party along side the BC Federation of Labour have been campaigning for an immediate minimum-wage increase to $10 an hour, pointed out the initial increase will still leave B.C. with the lowest minimum wage in the country.

“We know that even at $10.25, it will still be below the low-income cutoff for poverty rates in this province,” Simpson said.