B.C. minimum wage increase met with disappointment

News Provincial

After three years without an increase to the $10.25 minimum wage, B.C. announced a 20 cent increase to $10.45, scheduled for Sept. 2015.

One step behind Seattle’s 2014 approval for a $15 per hour minimum wage in 2017, B.C. unions are urging for higher pay. According to Demographia’s 11th annual housing market survey in late 2014, Vancouver is the world’s second-least affordable housing market.

In February, B.C. announced a budget surplus of $879 million, with forecasted surpluses for the next three years.

Economists have long debated the highlights and pitfalls of raising the minimum wage. “Empirical evidence on the impact of minimum wage is mixed,” UVic economics associate professor Dr. Elisabeth Gugl said via email.

According to a renowned paper in the field, a minimum wage increase in New Jersey had “no negative employment effect in this state on the fast food industry,” she said.

According to economic theory, firms (or companies) producing for the national market in B.C. would hire fewer workers and produce less due to higher labour costs. However, businesses producing for a local market, “can pass on higher labour costs through higher consumer prices,” Gugl said.

New minimum wage legislation is usually paired with wage subsidy programs, allowing workers to receive additional subsidies through income tax. The Earned Income Tax Credit is the U.S.’s policy for increasing income for the low-income earning population.

When considering the push for a $15 minimum wage, UVSS Director of External Relations Greg Atkinson believes the 20 cent raise is “almost laughing in the face of the people who are behind the $15 movement.”

“I think what the government is saying by not even wanting to discuss a $15 minimum wage eventually, is essentially that they don’t value the labour that people are giving when they’re working these jobs,” he said.

According to Atkinson, $15 per hour is barely reaching Victoria’s living wage, estimated to be between $18–19 per hour. The UVSS hires students at above the current minimum wage, but under $15. “To bump everyone up would be a significant amount of money that we’d have to find right away,” he said.

“I don’t think anyone arguing for a $15 minimum wage is saying it has to happen now . . . Looking at ways of implementing a $15 minimum wage and getting to that point is what’s key there,” he said.