British Columbia

B.C.'s move to raise minimum wage to $15.20 by 2021 too slow says B.C. Federation of Labour

Premier John Horgan said the increase is "long overdue" but the move is receiving criticism from both an industry group and a labour group for different reasons.

First jump to $12.65 happening June 1

Premier John Horgan announced an annual increase in B.C.'s minimum wage up to $15.20 by 2021. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

B.C. is raising the province's minimum wage to $15.20 by 2021, but some employers and the B.C. Federation of Labour are not happy with the details of the raise.

Premier John Horgan made the announcement on Thursday morning, saying the increase would be in place by June of that year. 

"It's long overdue that workers in B.C. be on the same pay scale as other provinces like Ontario, Quebec and Alberta," Horgan said. "This is long overdue."

Horgan said the minimum wage — currently $11.35 — will rise to $12.65 on June 1. It will continue to rise on that day every year until it hits $15.20:

  • June 1, 2018: $12.65 an hour ($1.30 increase)
  • June 1, 2019: $13.85 an hour ($1.20 increase)
  • June 1, 2020: $14.60 an hour ($0.75 increase)
  • June 1, 2021: $15.20 an hour ($0.60 increase)

The premier said the gradual raise was implemented partly because small business operators wanted time to adjust to the new pay scale — although the slow rise is front-loaded with this year's jump.

Restaurateurs, labour group critical

But later on Thursday afternoon, the move was criticized both for being too sudden and too slow.

Restaurants Canada, which represents the country's restaurant and food services industry, says the annual increases are significantly higher than inflation. It hopes talks will continue to maintain the lower liquor server wage and introduce a youth wage.

On the other hand, the B.C. Federation of Labour, which has long advocated for a $15-an-hour minimum, called the phased increases "disappointing."

"Making 500,000 low-paid workers who currently make less than $15 wait until June 1, 2021 to climb above poverty wage rates is not fair," president Irene Lanzinger said in a statement.

Lanzinger added she wants to end the exemptions the food service industry wants preserved. A lower minimum wage rate exists for liquor servers because they can earn tips on top of their regular pay.

"Those exemptions exist for liquor server wages and farmer workers and it's time that everybody earned the minimum wage," she said.

Worker hoped for more

Barista Scott Thompson, who earns minimum wage, was also hoping for a faster raise in pay.

"I was hoping for a result that addressed a bit more of the urgency that a lot of minimum wage workers are facing," Thompson told On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko.

The artist and performer says he needs the flexibility found in many minimum wage jobs, but that flexibility comes at a cost.

Thompson says it's been a long time since he's seen a dentist, and in emergencies he has to borrow money from friends and family.

"I've been very lucky in that way. There are a lot of people like me who don't have the same safety net," he said.

Like Lanzinger, Thompson wants to see the server's wage eliminated because he feels it makes employees beholden to the generosity of customers' tips.

"It's an exploitative way of operating a business."

'These people work hard'

In January, the Ministry of Labour said the Fair Wages Commission was working to determine how and when the minimum wage in B.C. will rise. The NDP government had campaigned on raising Vancouver's minimum wage from $11.35 an hour to $15 by 2021, though it initially abandoned that deadline. 

On Thursday, Minister Harry Bains said the government drew from the commission's recommendations when it decided on the figure of $15.20. 

"The commission report included many stories of people who work on minimum wage," Bains said. "These people work hard; they should be able to support themselves and their families."

Minister of Labour Harry Bains, pictured here at the B.C. Legislature in June, joined the premier in North Vancouver for the announcement. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Horgan and Bains made the announcement from a JJ Bean café in North Vancouver.

Last month, the company gave its Vancouver employees a $14 minimum wage to match Ontario's new minimum level, saying it was only fair to pay western staff the same as their eastern counterparts.

JJ Bean Coffee Roasters, which has stores in Toronto and Vancouver, raised its prices to offset the cost.

JJ Bean decided to give its Vancouver employees a wage increase after Ontario hiked its minimum wage from $11.60 to $14. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

B.C. currently has 5th-highest minimum

B.C.'s current minimum wage is only lower than Ontario, Quebec, Nunavut and Northwest Territories.

Ontario's minimum wage will rise to $15 an hour on Jan. 1, 2019.

In Quebec, it will rise to $12 an hour on May 1, with Alberta's hitting $15 an hour this October.

The figures in Nunavut and NWT are currently $13 and $12.50, respectively.

More than 20 per cent of British Columbians currently earn less than $15 an hour. More than half of those workers are university and college graduates over the age of 25.

With files from Belle Puri and CBC Radio One's On The Coast


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