British Columbia: Gradual Rise in Minimum Wage Planned

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By Peter Menyasz

British Columbia’s new socialist government is taking a restrained approach to its commitment to boost the province’s minimum wage to C$15 ($12) an hour, joining Ontario and Alberta in announcing a years-long plan to gradually reach that goal.

“British Columbia’s lowest-paid workers need a raise,” Premier John Horgan said Aug. 15. “The action we’re taking will make life better for working parents, seniors, new Canadians, students, and more. These are people struggling to get by.”

British Columbia will increase its minimum wage in stages to reach C$15 an hour by 2021, beginning with a 50 cent an hour increase to C$11.35 ($9.08) Sept. 15, Horgan said.

The minimum wage increase will benefit nearly 100,000 workers in the province, 62 percent of them women, Horgan said.

Horgan’s socialist New Democratic Party took power on June 29 with the support of the Green Party, defeating former premier Christy Clark's Liberal government 44-42 in a no-confidence vote.

Fair Wage Commission

The path to a C$15 an hour minimum wage will be determined by a fair wages commission, whose composition and terms of reference will be unveiled soon, Labour Minister Harry Bains said Aug. 15. The commission's principal objective will be to reach that rate on a “planned, responsible” path, Bains said in a statement.

“We’ve listened to business owners, who have told us gradual, predictable increases are the way to go to minimize the impact on their businesses,” Bains said. “They recognize that the move to a C$15 minimum wage is good for retention for their businesses and good for the British Columbia economy.”

In addition to the general increase, the provincial government announced an increase in the special minimum wage for liquor servers of C$0.50 an hour to C$10.10 ($8.08). Other minimum-wage-related provisions in the province’s employment standards regulation will increase by 4.6 percent, including the daily rate for live-in home support workers and live-in camp leaders, monthly rates for resident caretakers, and minimum farm worker piece rates, the government said.

Gradual, Predictable Increases

The planned gradual increase drew immediate support from business, while labor groups are arguing for faster increases.

Restaurant owners support reasonable minimum wage increases that ensure employees can keep up with the cost of living, if they are announced well in advance to give employers time to adjust, said Mark von Scheilwitz, Western Canada vice-president for Restaurants Canada.

“Restaurants Canada is pleased that the new government is proceeding with the previously announced 50-cents-an-hour minimum wage increases that small businesses have been preparing for,” Scheilwitz said.

The British Columbia Federation of Labour believes the minimum wage should be increased to C$15 an hour as soon as possible, particularly since the previous government froze the rate for 10 years, Irene Lanzinger, the labor group’s president, said Aug. 22.

The interim increase in September 2017 is still essentially a poverty wage, Lanzinger told Bloomberg BNA in an email.

“But when we get to C$15, that will mean people's wages are above the poverty line if they work full time,” she said.

In 2016, 93,800 or 4.8 percent of the province’s workers were paid the minimum wage, lower than the 6.9 percent national average, the Ministry of Labour said.

Wage Controversy Continues in Ontario

Controversy continues over the potential cost effects of the Ontario government’s plan to increase that province’s minimum wage to C$15 per hour by Jan. 1, 2019, starting with interim hikes of 20 cents per hour in October 2017 to C$11.60 ($9.28) per hour and to C$14 per hour on Jan. 1, 2018.

Major grocery retailers have been particularly vocal in their concerns.

Metro Inc. president Eric La Fleche warned Aug. 15 in a message accompanying the company’s financial report for third quarter that the wage increase could cost it C$40-50 million in 2018. Loblaw Companies reported July 26 in its second quarter 2017 report that planned minimum wage increases in Ontario and Alberta would cost it about C$190 million in 2018.

Unifor, Canada’s largest labor union, rejected these complaints in an Aug. 16 statement, suggesting that the highly profitable chains were among the best positioned to absorb the increases.

The increases will positively affect 70 percent of Unifor’s members at Metro stores and 90 percent at Metro’s Food Basics and Loblaws’ No Frills stores, most of them women working as cashiers and clerks, the union said.

“Instead of viewing the boost to Ontario’s minimum wage as an economic opportunity, these companies have chosen to focus public attention only on labor costs,” said Jerry Dias, the union’s national president. “That is incredibly disappointing.”

Alberta’s New Democratic Party government announced in September 2016 that it would increase that province’s minimum wage to C$15 on Oct. 1, 2018, with interim increases to C$12.20 on Oct. 1, 2016, and to C$13.60 on Oct. 1, 2017.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Menyasz in Ottawa at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at rvollmar@bna.com

For More Information

For more information on British Columbian HR law and regulation, see the British Columbia primer. For more information on Ontario HR law and regulation, see the Ontario primer. For more information on Alberta HR law and regulation, see the Alberta primer.

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