The province’s announcement that B.C.’s minimum wage will continue its incremental rise to $15 an hour, as promised in the 2017 election campaign, has evoked protest from those on both sides of the issue.
The rate will reach $15.20 by 2021, leaving those who currently earn minimum wage disappointed that the promised benchmark isn’t coming sooner.
Employers who pay that wage are expressing concern for the viability of their businesses. Small business owners, notably restaurateurs, rightly claim that their life’s work may be threatened by increased wages. Although these arguments are not backed by independent studies on the issue, they are likely true for some.
To further complicate the issue, there’s the fact not all minimum-wage businesses are equal. The performance of retail giants like Wal-Mart Canada, whose unbroken series of nine consecutive quarters of traffic growth and estimated $25 billion in sales in 2017, leave one a bit less inclined toward concern about the impact of higher wages on these businesses. Although in fairness, Wal-Mart does start employees at slightly above the current minimum.
The argument that the minimum wage-earning are mostly students and young people embarking on a working career is holding less weight all the time. In fact, 2016 B.C. labour force data show that roughly 64 per cent of minimum wage earners were between 20 and 55 years of age, while 14 per cent were over 55.
Then there’s the reality that in Victoria, the cost of housing and increased cost of living has left many of our poorest citizens scrambling to make ends meet. Operators of our food banks attest to the fact many of their clients work not one, but multiple minimum-wage jobs.
Regardless of the short-term impact of a higher wage on businesses, we have a responsibility to rectify this situation and call for a more rapid increase to a living wage.
More than 200 years ago Samuel Johnson wrote, “A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.”
Those words are still true and should serve as our guide.