Kelowna Chamber of Commerce president Tom Dyas (right) and chamber executive director Dan Rogers (left) appear before the B.C. Fair Wages Commission in Kelowna Tuesday.—Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Kelowna Chamber of Commerce president Tom Dyas (right) and chamber executive director Dan Rogers (left) appear before the B.C. Fair Wages Commission in Kelowna Tuesday.—Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Making the case for and against a $15 per hour minimum wage in B.C.

Fair Wages Commission hears both sides during a stop in Kelowna

B.C.’s Fair Wages Commission received two different takes on the minimum wage when it stopped in Kelowna Tuesday.

While representatives of the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce are against a substantial increase to the minimum wage, a representative of the B.C. Poverty Coalition said a hike to $15 per hour is needed, and it’s needed now.

Christine Mettler, Okanagan coordinator with the coalition told the commissioners, B.C.’s current minimum wage of $11.35 per hour should be increased to $15 by no later than January 2019.

“Low wage workers need the increase and they need it now,” said Mettler, who conceded the 2019 deadline in order to allow employers time to adjust to the new rate.

But Kelowna Chamber of Commerce president Tom Dyas has a different perspective.

He said small businesses can’t handle any more large, “unpredictable” increases to the minimum wage and warned of a “ratcheting-up effect” of raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. That effect, he said, could be to see all wages for workers at a business increase as a result of the minimum wage hike, causing undue financial pressure on the owners of that business. Small business, he said, is the backbone of the B.C. economy.

He warned that could affect in turn affect the ability for some small businesses to continue operating or mean cutting back workers hours or not employing as many people.

“In some ways, the minimum wage has introduced a distortion into the market,” said Dyas.

The commission, made up of chairwoman Marjorie Griffin Cohen, an economics professor at SFU, Ken Peacock of the B.C. Business Council and union leader Ivan Limpright, is an independent body set up to advise the provincial government on its plan to raise the minimum wage in B.C. to $15 per hour.

In its election platform in the spring, the NDP said it would raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2021. It has since indicated it is looking at pushing that forward, following the lead of other provinces.

The commission is touring the province gathering public input and will report back to the government before the end of the year with a recommendation about timing.

It will then look at how the minimum wage should be dealt with in B.C. after it is raised to $15 per hour, with more recommendations in the spring.

Mettler said even at $15 per hour, minimum wage workers in B.C. will still be making what she called a “poverty wage” given the high cost of living in this province. She said a “living” wage in the Kelowna area is more like $18 to $19 per hour.

She told the commission the low-income cutoff, commonly referred to as the “poverty line,” in Canada is currently considered to be $24,000 per year. But a worker making the current minimum wage in B.C. only makes just over $20,000 a year.

Dyas argued that many businesses already pay their employees more than the minimum wage at the lower levels and the percentage of employees in B.C. who only make minimum wage has been decreasing over the last five years.

He said while the chamber wants to see employees paid properly, the minimum wage in B.C. has risen a lot in the last 36 months and that has been tough for small businesses, such as more than 1,200 his chamber represents.

He told the commissioners if a hike is to occur, it should happen gradually over the next three years and go into effect in 2021. He said business needs predictability and certainty.

He would also like to see any future increases directly tied to the Consumer Price Index.

Dyas said the government should put out a fact sheet explaining how many workers are currently making minimum wage, during times of recession the minimum wage should be frozen and the minister of labour should have the power to freeze the minimum wage at existing levels as the economic situation warrants.

The commission also heard from a representative of the B.C. Federation of Labour about the minimum wage’s effect on indigenous workers.

Shelley Saje Ricci also called for a raise in the minimum wage to $15 per hour, saying it should be done in two steps: moving to $14 per hour in 2018 and to $15 per hour in January 2019.

“The riches of our economic prosperity are not being distributed equally,” said Ricci. “While the rich in our province are getting richer, low-income earners are struggling more than ever.”

She said in the case of indigenous workers, across the country they earn an average of 25 per cent less than their non-indigenous counterparts.

Farm workers were also discussed as they are one of several groups of workers in B.C. to whom the minimum wage rules do not apply.

Mettler and Saje Ricci both said there should be just one minimum wage for all workers, with no exemptions.

But local cherry farmer Sukhpaul Bal said in many cases, farm workers can make more money doing piece-work than they can if they were paid the minimum wage.

He said in the case of temporary foreign farm workers, other financial benefits are also included such as housing and flights to and from Canada, which are supposed to be covered by the farms that employ the workers.

To report a typo, email: edit@kelownacapnews.com.



awaters@kelownacapnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

This photo of the small wildfire burning above Naramata was taken at 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021 (Monique Tamminga Western News)
BC Wildfire on scene of small wildfire above Naramata

Black smoke can be seen rising from the mountain

Keremeos’ heritage Grist Mill and Gardens. (Brennan Phillips - Keremeos Review)
Keremeos Grist Mill looking forward to restrictions easing with exclusive concert planned

Juno Award-winning folk artist Valdy is set to take the stage

Letter writer says COVID has created lots of newbie cyclists who don't know rules of cycling. (File photo)
LETTER: Newbie cyclists in Penticton need lessons on rules of the road

Penticton cycling group just received city funding, should give back by offering how-to lessons

No dental coverage for low income Canadians. (File photo)
OPINION: Penticton MP’s proposal for universal dental coverage rejected

One in 3 Canadians have no dental coverage, with COVID making it even worse

The weekly COVID-19 map for June 6 to 12. (BC CDC)
South Okanagan sees only 5 new cases in last week

The Similkameen Valley went a second week without any new cases

Bear wanders Kelowna on June 15. (Michelle Wallace/Facebook)
Bear climbs fence, uses crosswalk in Kelowna

The bear was spotted on Baron Road Wednesday evening

Students in the Grade 10 entrepreneurship program at Summerland Unisus School have completed a cookbook with international recipes. (Contributed)
Summerland students create virtual international cookbook

Entrepreneurship program at Summerland Unisus School uses virtual cookbook as fundraiser

Hundreds of people, young and old, joined the three-day Walking Our Spirits Home procession, honouring residential school survivors, those who never made it home and all those affected by the institutions. Here people walk the third portion on June 13. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
Walking Our Spirits Home from Kamloops provides path to healing

First Nations in and beyond Secwépemc territory join in to honour residential school survivors

More flames
Lake Country home destroyed in large blaze, 11 dogs rescued

Fire crews are responding to 10839 Hallam Drive

(Facebook/Kelowna Cabs)
Kelowna Cabs reaches tentative agreement with dispatchers union

The tentative agreement could help end the dispute between the taxi company and the dispatchers

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

A boat sharing service is extending to Summerland. The company, Penticton Boat Club and Rentals, is also taking over the boat rentals at Summerland Waterfront Resort. (Photo by Chris Stenberg)
Boat sharing service extended from Penticton to Summerland

Company will also operate boat rentals at Summerland Waterfront Resort

201 First Street West 1980s. Prior revitalization. (Photo from Revelstoke Museum and Archives)
Man who redesigned downtown Revelstoke honoured with lifetime achievement award

Robert Inwood has worked on historical projects across the province

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

Most Read