British Columbia

B.C.'s minimum wage jumps by 75 cents on Monday, but living wage still out of reach

The minimum age for workers in British Columbia is rising to $14.60 on Monday, a welome boost for earners across the province but still lower than a living wage in many parts of the province.

Rate has been rising every June 1 since 2018

A volunteer vacuums the empty prayer room at the Masjid Al-Salaam & Education Centre in Burnaby, B.C., on May 22, 2020. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The minimum wage for workers in British Columbia is rising to $14.60 an hour on Monday, a welcome boost for earners across the province but one which still leaves them earning far less than a "living wage," which would cover basic expenses such as food, clothing, shelter, transportation and child care.

The new number is a 75-cent jump from $13.85 for thousands of workers across the province, many of whom are essential staff helping provide people with products and services they need to get through the pandemic.

Hannah Estrabrook, 21, works at the Zero Waste Emporium bulk food store in Victoria. She said the increase is a step in the right direction for some of the most low-income workers in B.C., but the rate still isn't enough.

"It still comes nowhere near to a living wage," said Estabrook, who earns $15 an hour and works around 30 hours per week.

The Living Wage for Families Campaign has calculated a rate of $19.50 per hour for Metro Vancouver and $19.39 in Greater Victoria in 2019, based on a family with two parents working full-time to support two children.

(The campaign is not calculating the living wage for 2020 until November, their work having been postponed due to the pandemic.)

A T&T Supermarket employee adjusts his mask at the entrance to the store in Vancouver on May 12, 2020. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Estabrook also pointed out an employee working 35 hours per week at B.C.'s new minimum wage will earn $511 per week, while the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) works out to $500 weekly for those who have lost their jobs during the health crisis.

"Even going to work five days a week, I saw myself earning less than my roommates who stayed home and received the CERB," said Estabrook, who takes environmental studies at the University of Victoria.

"That feels somewhat unfair, but I think it really points to the fact that what minimum wage workers are making in jobs that are essential ⁠— like grocery stores and pharmacies and delivery drivers ... folks who we really depend upon to keep our society moving ⁠— are making less than what the government deemed acceptable as a base benefit.

"I'm happy as a young and healthy person to be able to contribute to my community ... but it did feel very conflicting to still be going into work everyday, taking risks, in an environment that was definitely busier and a lot more stressful than usual," Estabrook continued.

Struggling businesses had called on the province to defer the wage hike, given the pandemic. B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains acknowledged the economic difficulties facing companies this spring, but said the increase would go ahead.

"The lowest paid workers in B.C. need help as well. They need money in their pockets so they will be able to go and invest in the local businesses who are suffering right now," Bains told a news conference on May 21.

A possible consequence of increasing the minimum wage is that employers will reduce the number of hours that are available for low-wage workers, according to Krishna Pendakur, professor of economics at Simon Fraser University.

Pendakur said the issue has been very well researched within the $11 to $13 range of recent years.

"The evidence is pretty strong that it hardly does anything to the hours that employers want to hire," he said, adding that there's less data on the issue once you get into the current wage range.

But he pointed out that workers would need to lose more than five per cent of their hours to come out worse after Monday's minimum wage hike.

He said about seven per cent of Canadian workers earn minimum wage, and typically when their rate is increased, other workers earning close to the lowest legal wage also see an increase.

Monday's jump is part of the provincial government's plan to gradually raise the rate from $11.35 in 2017 until it reaches $15.20 in 2021.

With files from The Canadian Press & Rafferty Baker

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