Minimum wage exemptions reinforce wage gap, harassment, workers' advocate says

British Columbia has committed to hitting a $15.20 minimum wage by 2021, but what is still unclear is how the government plans to deal with existing exemptions to the wage.

Fair Trade Commission is preparing a report about minimum wage exemptions for Ministry of Labour

About 81 per cent of food and beverage servers in B.C. are women, according to Statistics Canada. (Toby Talbot/Associated Press)

British Columbia has committed to hitting a $15.20 minimum wage by 2021, but what is still unclear is how the government plans to deal with existing exemptions to the wage.

Currently, liquor servers on minimum wage make $1.25 less per hour in base wages than other workers.

Kaitlyn Matulewicz, an organizer and researcher with the workers' rights advocacy organization, The Retail Action Network, says the separate rate is reinforcing the gender pay gap and making women more vulnerable to harassment at work.

"We know the mantra that 'the customer is always right' and tipping brings that to life," she told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition.

Having a wage that relies on customers tipping means workers are constantly navigating the line between accepting inappropriate behaviour or risking necessary income, Matulewicz explained.

"Unfortunately, sometimes drawing that line means that there is an immediate economic impact in that they are not tipped," she said.

"This reliance [on customers for tips] makes them vulnerable to having to endure sexual harassment, really, as the price to be paid for a tip."

The Fair Trade Commission, the group that recommended the path to raising the minimum wage, is looking into the current exemptions and writing a second report that is expected to land on Labour Minister Harry Bains's desk in the next week or so.

Liquor servers have a lower minimum wage because they are expected to make up the difference in tips. (Underground Pub and Grill)

Insecure income

In B.C., 81 per cent of food and beverage servers are women and so the liquor server exception disproportionately impacts women.

"Tips are not guaranteed and so they are an insecure form of income in that sense," Matulewicz said.

Her organization is advocating to eliminate the liquor server minimum wage and increase transparency around tipping pools shared between employees.

Ultimately, the culture around tipping should shift but that will be difficult, Matulewicz said.

"Restaurants that try to do that right now are competing with restaurants that get a significant subsidy paid by customers," she said. "Often, they raise their menu prices in order to offset that."

British Columbia is already on its way to hitting a $15.20 minimum wage by 2021 but what remains unclear is what the NDP government intends to do with the existing exemptions to that wage. 8:18

With files from The Early Edition.

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