Province could fix mistake on B.C. minimum wage with as little as 20-cent correction, critics say

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      Next month, Jobs Minister Shirley Bond is scheduled to announce that B.C.’s minimum wage will rise by 20 cents this September, to $10.65 an hour.

      In a telephone interview, Shane Simpson, opposition critic for economic development, described that as “totally inadequate”.

      The NDP MLA for Vancouver-Hastings said that’s because B.C.’s current minimum wage of $10.45 an hour ranks twelfth out of 13 provinces and territories in Canada. And because B.C. and most jurisdictions have tied such annual increases to the consumer price index (CPI) or inflation, the bottom is where B.C.’s lowest-income earners will stay.

      He emphasized that B.C.’s minimum wage requires “incremental improvements” that reflect this province’s high costs of living. However, Simpson noted that in the meantime, it wouldn’t take much to at least lift B.C.’s minimum wage from the gutter.

      After reviewing federal data supplied by the Straight, Simpson observed that a one-time “adjustment” of 20 or 30 cents above the 20-cent increase planned for this September would see B.C. rise roughly halfway up the ladder.

      “It would take us to a place that is still less than $11 an hour, but it would be an improvement, no doubt,” he said.

      As the Straight previously reported, internal government documents show the province’s intent was to move B.C.’s minimum wage to the middle of the pack. It fell short of that goal with its 20-cent increase on account of faulty information and a lack of long-term forecasting.

      Civil servants sent emails alerting colleagues to problems with B.C.'s new minimum wage, documents obtained via a freedom-of-information request reveal. And yet no action was taken to revise the increase to a point where B.C.’s minimum wage would rank higher than among the lowest in Canada.
      Travis Lupick

      Trevor Hughes, an assistant deputy minister to Bond, was alerted to the error last June, emails obtained by the Straight make clear. But the province went ahead with its planned increase despite warnings it would leave B.C. in a low position relative to other jurisdictions.

      The ministry refused repeated requests for an interview.

      Simpson said if this was all a mistake, he doesn’t believe it’s one the government will move to correct.

      “I asked Minister Shirley Bond last year, in the estimates process, whether this was the end of it for the minimum wage, after the 20-cents announcement,” Simpson recounted. “She said, ‘Yes, we think that we have done everything we need to do with the minimum wage.’ So they are happy at $10.45 with some CPI adjustment.”

      B.C. Federation of Labour president Irene Lanzinger described a 20- to 30-cent increase above $10.65 as “better than nothing”.

      “But it’s still not a good enough place to start,” she said. “Even at $11 an hour, workers are below the poverty line.”

      “Raising the minimum wage allows B.C. to keep pace with minimum wages in the rest of Canada while maintaining our competitiveness," said B.C. Minister of Labour Shirley Bond (right) at a press conference in March 2015.
      Government of British Columbia

      According to a government analysis obtained via a freedom-of-information request, in 2013 there were 120,400 British Columbians earning the minimum wage. Of those, 47 percent, or 56,100, were aged 25 or older.

      David Fairey, cochair of the B.C. Employment Standards Coalition, went further, saying he would oppose a correction as small as 20 or 30 cents. Fairey expressed concern that this would still leave B.C.’s base line for future CPI adjustments too low.

      “It doesn’t address the issue adequately,” he said. “They might do it in the lead-up to the [2017] election, but then it would be stuck there.”