B.C.'s minimum wage to reach $12.65 by June, $15.20 in 2021
The province's minimum wage will rise by $1.30 an hour on June 1, the premier and labour minister announced Thursday.
In less than four months, workers will earn an hourly wage of $12.65.
Additional increases will take place each June until 2021, when the rate will reach $15.20. The scaled approach is meant to allow businesses and employers to plan for increases over time.
"For too long, the lowest-paid workers in our province have been left to fall behind, with their wages frozen for a decade at a time," Premier John Horgan said.
"That's not fair and it's not right. Like all British Columbians, our lowest-paid workers deserve a fair shake and a fair wage."
The province estimated the 2018 increase will affect approximately 94,000 workers, and about 400,000 will benefit from the 2021 increase.
The NDP campaigned on a promise to establish a commission tasked with finding a way to reach a minimum wage of $15 an hour or higher. The party made its first move toward that goal in September, when the wage rose from $10.85 to $11.35.
The minimum wage timeline was created by the Fair Wages Commission, an arms-length government body created after the NDP took power. The group recommends increasing the minimum wage to $13.85 in 2019 and $14.60 in 2020, before passing the $15 mark.
The commission has published a full report online on its reasoning, including that when employers face sudden, rapid rises, the increases can be hard to absorb. Its goal was to ensure workers are able to afford life in B.C. as quickly as possible, but to ensure businesses are able to stay afloat.
Ontario recently increased its wage to $14, a move that led some local businesses to increase prices and consider staffing cuts. Tim Hortons made headlines for its response to the wage increase, which included cutting employees' breaks and benefits.
The Surrey Board of Trade voiced its concerns immediately after the province's announcement, saying its members felt the increase was too quick. The board said it asked the province for a five-year implementation to give small businesses more time.
"Our small businesses, especially those in the service sector, are vulnerable to increasing costs from various sources. I am especially concerned that this may be the straw that breaks some of them," CEO Anita Huberman said.
"The cost of living is a major concern for our members as employees need to be able to thrive in the community. However, too big a jump may possibly lose some of them their jobs as employers try to balance their books as a result of these jumps."
The premier said he did not believe the 2021 goal was overly aggressive.
"In fact, it's going to be a disappointment to some, but we're trying to find a balance of predictability to business and some sense that we're giving hope to people living with wages below $15 today," Horgan said.
Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver said his party supports raising the wage, and that it is essential that all changes moving forward are done within the context of a changing economy.
"We must put evidence first and proactively address the changes on the horizon. We look forward to working further with the government to explore innovative solutions, such as basic income, to growing issues of precarious work and technological automation," he said in a statement.
The province's plan was praised by MoveUP, a union representing thousands of employees of private and public companies in western Canada.
"We strongly believe nobody working full-time should be living below the poverty line," MoveUP president David Black said in a statement.
"Today's announcement was a tremendous step towards ensuring that all British Columbians have a living wage."
But the BC Federation of Labour called the three-year wait "disappointing."
"Let's be clear that achieving a $15 per hour minimum wage is an accomplishment, and better than anything the previous BC Liberal government would have done to address poverty wages and inequity," BCFED president Irene Lanzinger said.
But she said other provinces have been more bold with their timelines, and that making the low-paid workers earning less than $15 wait until 2021 is unfair.
"Poverty and inequality are rampant in our province while B.C. is Canada's most expensive place to live," she said.
Lanzinger added that she hopes the next phase will include reforms to current minimum wage exemptions for farmers and restaurant servers.
The BCFED estimated that about one-quarter of B.C.'s labour force earns less than $15 an hour, what the federation referred to as "poverty level wages." Sixty per cent of the 500,000 workers are women, and one-in-seven has a post-secondary degree.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives suggested B.C. could reach the $15-an-hour goal by 2019 in three steps: an increase to $13 in March, $14 in September and $15 in March 2019.
In a statement, the centre said their model is similar to a timeline of increases the B.C. government took in 2011, and would put the province on the same schedule as Alberta and Ontario.
B.C.'s neighbour to the east is expected to reach the $15 mark in October, while Ontario's wage will increase in January.
Ahead of the increase, minimum wage on the west coast was higher than in the Yukon, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and the Maritimes, but lower than in Alberta, Ontario, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
Senior economist Iglika Ivanova said the scheduled increases will provide an improvement to workers' quality of life and boost the economy.
"So many more workers and their families will have more disposable income. They will be able to buy that extra cup of coffee, they will be able to go for dinner," she said.
However, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business disagreed about the economic impact, saying it could do harm to some groups of workers.
"There will be fewer entry-level jobs for young people, for new Canadians," said Richard Truscott, CFIB vice-president for B.C. and Alberta.
"This may make for good politics and perhaps some good political grandstanding, but it's terrible economic policy."
With files from CTV Vancouver's Maria Weisgarber