An upcoming increase to the minimum wage in BC has the support of Powell River’s small-business community, but critics say the increase does not go far enough, or take effect soon enough.
On September 15, BC’s minimum wage will increase by 50 cents from $10.85 to $11.35 per hour. According to the BC Ministry of Labour, the increase will benefit approximately 94,000 workers, or 4.8 per cent of the provincial workforce.
BC labour minister Harry Bains announced the minimum wage increase on August 15 and said the provincial government will establish a fair wages commission to look at raising it to $15 over the next four years.
Powell River Employment Program (PREP) Society executive director Lyn Adamson said the province moving toward a $15-an-hour minimum wage will help those who work in hospitality sector jobs, but she would like to see the amount of time to arrive there reduced.
“By 2021, $15 per hour is still going to feel like $10.85 an hour,” she said.
Powell River Chamber of Commerce president Cory Carr said his organization applauds the new NDP government for following through with the previous Liberal government’s plans to give BC’s minimum-wage earners a raise.
“We do applaud the fact that they did stick with that original number,” said Carr. “If we can be predicable in that change it does a lot to help the business community be prepared for what is coming down the road.”
Planning for gradual increases over a longer period will give the business community the ability to make plans, adapt and protect future job growth, said Carr.
Adamson said with the high number of local food and hospitality sector businesses that pay minimum wage, business owners will feel less of a sting with the gradual increase.
"The minimum wage going up in a predictable way is a good for businesses, but undoubtedly because we have a number of hospitality businesses in our community the increase has an impact on their bottom line,” said Adamson.
According to Carr, a more measured increase to the $15 minimum wage will allow business owners to gradually build corresponding costs into their businesses without having to decide whether the increase will lead to reducing staffing levels and hours, laying current workers off or passing the cost onto customers.
Adamson said based on information she has seen from communities that raised the minimum wage to $15 per hour, they have benefited in the long term, but felt some short-term pain.
“It seems to be better overall for the economy and definitely for people who are earning minimum wage to get something closer to a living wage,” said Adamson, “so I'm hopeful this will have a positive outcome overall.”
Powell River’s living wage is calculated to be $16.75 per hour, according to a 2017 report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.