News / Vancouver

B.C.’s minimum wage earners get a raise, backed by many businesses

$0.40 lift for workers at the bottom may not be near what advocates say is a living wage — but neither has it stirred the private sector outrage some predicted

Dalya Gomaa (left) and her youngest of three children stop to sign a petition calling for a $15-an-hour minimum wage in B.C. outside a Vancouver McDonald's in this 2015 file photo.

David P. Ball / Metro

Dalya Gomaa (left) and her youngest of three children stop to sign a petition calling for a $15-an-hour minimum wage in B.C. outside a Vancouver McDonald's in this 2015 file photo.

When British Columbia’s minimum wage jumps by $0.40 next week, workers who toil at that rate have found an unlikely supporter of their small raises.

The Surrey Board of Trade — which represents 2,200 businesses in the province’s second-largest, fastest-growing city — canvassed its members to see how they viewed the province-wide change, which kicks in next Thursday.

Of the third who responded, 60 per cent actually supported the government’s increase, according to the Board’s CEO.

“We found that very interesting,” Anita Huberman said in a phone interview. “Absolutely employers want to take care of their workers.

“When they take care of their workers and pay them a healthy wage, it’s taking care of our human capital. When you take care of your workforce, you’re contributing to your business’s productivity and as a result contributing to our economy.”

Another surprise in the informal survey, part of the Board’s regular outreach efforts, was that some businesses thought next week’s raise doesn’t go far enough.

Out of the minority who opposed the B.C. government raising it to $10.85, nearly four-in-ten indicated they preferred a much greater increase to a living wage, and some others thought $15-an-hour would suffice.

A living wage is the hourly amount a family needs to cover basic expenses such as rent, childcare, food, transport, clothing, and savings for illness or emergencies, according to the Living Wage for Families campaign.

The campaign calculates Metro Vancouver’s living wage to be $20.64 an hour.

“It’s a hot topic,” Huberman said, “but I don’t know if the business community would be completely supportive of that because of added costs.”

Nonetheless, she said feedback from the survey included criticism of B.C.’s higher-than-average child poverty rate.

“In a province like B.C., that shouldn’t be the case,” she said, summarizing some members’ views.

The city hosts the greatest concentration of manufacturers in the province, she added. But despite apparent majority support for the change in Surrey, not all minimum wage employers are happy to have to pay their staff more.

In May, B.C.’s announcement of a larger-than-expected increase on Sept. 15 from $10.45 to $10.85, followed by another similar hike next year, sparked concern from the provincial Chamber of Commerce.

“There’s no denying that these two minimum wage increases will be tough for some of our 36,000 represented businesses across the province,” stated interim CEO Maureen Kirkbride in a statement.

But the Chamber said it did support regular increases in the legislated minimum in line with the rising Consumer Price Index, which the province has said it supports despite exceeding the roughly dime-a-year rate.

“For our businesses, the bottom line is the need for certainty and predictability,” Kirkbride stated in May. “Quite simply, we need to take the politics out of minimum wage increases.”

Huberman said among her members opposed to raising the rate beyond the annual rise in consumer prices, many were restaurants and retailers concerned about their already-narrow profit margins.

For them, “if the minimum wage continues to increase and costs continue to increase, then they’re going to need to find ways to change the way they deliver services or make their products …(and) transferring over the costs through prices increasing.

“All that remains to be seen. We’re going to need to wait, I expect six months maybe, to see the effects of this minimum wage increase.”

More on