That’s the Trail and district chamber’s reaction to the news that B.C. will hike minimum wage to $15.20-an-hour – or higher – by June 2021.
Four increases between June 2018 and 2021 represent a 34 per cent increase over four years.
“Our local response is the same as most rural communities,” says Audry Durham, executive director for the Trail and District Chamber of Commerce.
“The worst piece is the ‘no collaboration’ that seems to be rampant in municipal, provincial and federal governments,” she added. “When an announcement like this hits, the prices have to go up and the customer will make up the difference because supplies and overhead won’t go down.”
Hardest hit will be the service, retail, and tourism industries that provide entry level jobs and training for newcomers and students, said Durham.
Minimum-wage workers had their first 50 cent an hour pay increase in September 2017, and now earn to $11.35 per hour. That upped B.C. from seventh position to the third-highest minimum wage among Canada’s provinces.
The next increase of $1.30 per hour is recommended for June 1.
“The B.C. chamber has been working with the province, so we knew when that first one came up,” said Durham. “It would have been nice for the province to have more input from the business world because 75 per cent of B.C. businesses are small business, and this is really going to affect profit margins.”
She expressed another concern with minimum wage increments, that being jobs at the Trail chamber will no longer be competitive when the mandated hourly rate hits $12.65, likely in June. The gap will keep narrowing when the recommended minimum jumps another $1.20 an hour to $13.85 in 2019, then to $14.60 the following year, and $15.20 in June 2021.
In other words, raising the minimum wage closes the margin for summer student jobs as well as entry level positions at the chamber, which have historically paid a few more dollars per hour than minimum.
“That’s the other thing I think of,” said Durham. “We’ve had summer students forever, they are going to university and need the money, so we top up what the federal government gives us, which is $10.85 an hour,” she added.
“So when the minimum wage goes up we are going to have to look at that, and ask ‘Are we going to be able to be competitive at that point?” Durham questioned.
“And people who have been here for awhile, they are going to be way closer to minimum wage than ever before.”
From a social perspective, raising the minimum to $15 is incredibly important, but doesn’t go far enough, says Morag Carter, The Skill Centre’s executive director.
“The plan is laudable,” said Carter. “But I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I were to say that it’s enough, it really isn’t.”
Carter was referring to the discrepancy between minimum wage and the Lower Columbia’s living wage, which is $18.21 an hour.
(A living wage is the hourly amount a family needs to earn to cover basic expenses)
“So I think it’s really important to recognize that, when we are paying someone minimum wage, we are still not paying them enough to live on.”
She mentioned the mythology around who is actually working at the bottom of the pay scale.
“It’s not kids living at home, that’s not what is borne out by all the research,” Carter said. “It’s mostly women working minimum wage, it’s women supporting families earning the minimum wage.”
Given that it will take three years to fully implement as the cost of living rises, Carter says low-wage earners will continue their struggle.
“If you’re not earning enough money working 40 hours a week to cover your expenses, which is the gap between living wage and minimum wage, ” she explained. “You’re either ending up deeper in the hole, scrimping on things, working extended hours or having to work multiple jobs to pay the rent and put food on the table.”