P.E.I. business owners readying for minimum wage increase
'It's important to raise that minimum wage so that people can have a good ... quality of living'
Minimum wage on P.E.I. is set to go up by 70 cents Friday, and that increase is getting a mixed reaction from the small business community whose payroll costs will rise.
"I think you're always concerned about the bottom line, what my labour costs are, what my food costs are," said Ken Meister, owner of Holman's Ice Cream Parlour in Summerside.
"This just adds on to what your expenses are going to be for another year."
Meister supports the increase, though nearly all of his staff earn more than minimum wage already.
"It's important to raise that minimum wage so that people can have a good standard and quality of living," he said.
'The timing is very unfortunate'
Staff at the Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce have been hearing a range of reactions to the upcoming increase.
"The timing is very unfortunate for the businesses in the sense that they're in the recovery stage of the pandemic," said executive director Tara Maddix.
She said many businesses in the tourism industry, which have already taken a hard hit due to COVID-19, are the ones most affected by the wage increase.
When minimum wage goes up Friday, it will be $13.70 an hour, the highest in Atlantic Canada. It is still far from a living wage, however, which is estimated at $19.30 an hour for someone living in Charlottetown, according to a 2020 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Green MLA Steve Howard raised that issue in the legislature Wednesday.
"Let's start talking in terms of a livable wage. We could bring in a basic income guarantee," Howard said, while speaking about the high cost of living for Islanders.
Howard called the pilot projects the P.E.I. government has run on a basic income guarantee "underwhelming."
'It'll be nice, just as things go up'
Holman's employee Brye Caissie makes more than minimum wage, so the increase won't affect her as directly, though her wage will also rise.
"It'll be nice, just as things go up, the cost of things in general, the cost of living goes up," said Caissie.
Lone Oak Brewing Co. in Borden-Carleton is another business that pays all of its employees above minimum wage.
Co-owner Jared Murphy said minimum wage increases are important.
"But the other side point to that is that when small businesses see these cost increases, we're going to have to adjust ourselves. And that's when I think consumers are going to start to see prices start to increase for the services and products that small businesses provide," said Murphy.
Maddix at the Summerside Chamber echoed that point.
"Unfortunately, it gets passed on to the consumer at some point in time when expenses are raised," she said.
Holman's owner Meister said his business has continued to grow through the pandemic, and he's continued to innovate and increase production capacity.
"We'll just have to try to do as much as we can to make things efficient and effective and get customers through as fast as we can," said Meister.
"We hope it won't affect the bottom line too much this year. That's mostly because we're expecting a busy summer."
Maddix said despite the challenges, she has no doubt Island businesses will make it through the increase.
"We have a very resilient business community on the Island and one that supports each other time and time and time and time again."
With files from Steve Bruce and Tony Davis
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