The B.C. Federation of Labour (BCFL) is calling on the B.C. Liberal government to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
BCFL former president Jim Sinclair notes it has been almost three years since the last increase to the minimum wage.
“At the current minimum wage, working full time is not enough to lift a worker out of poverty … workers fall behind when their wage is stagnant, yet the cost of living goes up each year.”
However, Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett says the wage has been raised three times since spring 2011 – with the last increase to $10.25 an hour in May 2012.
“You have to start somewhere. If somebody is trying to support a family on minimum wage, it’s tough, yes.
“It’s also tough for businesses; every time you increase wages you decrease the opportunity for jobs and you also increase the cost of living.”
Barnett says 2013 statistics show more than half (52 per cent) of the individuals earning the minimum wage were youth – and half of those were living with their parents, many of whom (44 per cent) were attending school.
“Every time government steps in the way of the private sector, which creates the economy, and says ‘we’ve got to increase the minimum wage’, then the consumer’s cost of everything goes up.”
The MLA explains most people in small business are family operations struggling to keep the doors open.
As of October 2014, the average wage in the province is $24.35 an hour, and the average youth wage is $14.68, she notes.
Government subsidies and waived medical plan premiums also help minimum wage earners pay their bills, Barnett says, adding there are tax deductions for parents and child-care subsidies support about 45,000 children a year.
“There are discounted bus passes for those on low income; there is free dental and optical for the children; earning exemptions for individuals with disabilities have been increased to $800 a month….”
South Cariboo Chamber of Commerce chair Carl Gimse says his board has not yet discussed the recent campaign.
However, Gimse adds he personally thinks if the province mandated an almost 50 per cent minimum wage increase to $15, the percentage of businesses closing their doors would also be very high.
“It definitely would not be a boost to the economy; obviously Jim Sinclair never studied that science. I agree that it is extremely difficult for anybody to get by on our present minimum wages; however, gradual increases are inevitable.”
Meanwhile, Sinclair says $15/hour is a fair minimum wage, and a recent Insights West public opinion poll indicates 72 per cent of British Columbia residents agree.
“We need to build an economy that works for everyone.”
More information on the BCFL campaign is online at Fightfor15bc.ca.