What BC Residents Told the Premier About Minimum Wage

'It is real hard to make ends meet on $10.25 an hour.'

By Andrew MacLeod 18 Mar 2015 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, April 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

Over the past two years Premier Christy Clark's office received diverse opinions from members of the public on how much the province's lowest paid workers should make. Those opinions ranged from freezing the minimum wage at $10.25 an hour, to raising it to $20 an hour or more.

On March 12, the government announced it would raise the hourly minimum this September by 20 cents. Future annual increases will be tied to the rate of inflation as measured using the Consumer Price Index. The government also raised the wage for people who serve alcohol -- which is lower since they are likely to earn tips -- by 20 cents to $9.20 an hour.

Last December, The Tyee made a Freedom of Information request to the premier's office, asking for records related to the government's promised review of the minimum wage.

It received a 52-page response, containing dozens of letters and emails from the public. The package also contained the government's responses. Identifying information, such as names and email addresses, was removed before the records were released.

Following is a sample of the comments sent to the premier's office. They were edited for space and clarity.

* "I'll cut to the chase, I own [redacted] in B.C., the minimum wage increase is putting me out of business. I no longer can make a profit, the profit I was making is now gone. I am very sad as I've been in business for [redacted] years. All the best and warmest wishes." (Sent: Feb. 19, 2013 at 11:28 a.m.)

* "If we could actually have a decent minimum wage such as $12.25 per hour, making the increase a whopping $2, that is not too bad for all the hard workers who are just starting out. Let's work together and make a brighter future for our children of this province and stop making the provincial government look bad." (Sent: Aug. 30, 2013 at 1:16 a.m.)

* "It is time to step up and look after the poor. It is disgraceful that working people cannot feed their families. Isn't it time to raise the minimum wage again? It seems to be easy to approve everyone raising their prices, so you have to raise wages in step with that." (Sent: Dec. 7, 2013 at 9:37 a.m.)

* "Far too many people have moved to the economic level which requires them to spend substantially more than the recommended maximum of 30 [per cent] of their income for housing. This puts many more people [at] risk of falling over the line between the housed and the homeless. When they become homeless they become a burden on our social system, the health care system and the legal system. They are removed from the consumer merry-go-round which so many of you support and which supports your campaigns. It will all have to come crashing down some time. The [one per cent] can't sustain the economy of consumers by themselves." (Sent: Dec. 28, 2013 at 2:32 p.m.)

Earns $9 an hour

* "I would like to know if there [are] going to be any changes to minimum wage laws. I work at a restaurant where the owner has a liquor licence so only has to pay us $9 an hour. I don't think this is fair as were are making very few tips, sometimes none. It is quiet right now, sometimes the bar is busy but the owner looks after that himself.... The girls who work the 8 [a.m.] to noon shift get to clean his bar for him for $9 an hour, umm... ? Doesn't really seem fair to me." (Sent: Jan. 8, 2014 at 12:13 p.m.)

* "When are you going address the cost of living in B.C.? I checked on what the minimum wage used to be. In 1960 minimum wage used to [be] $1 an hour. This would buy a full-size car then in 2,000 hours. Now that same full-size car costs $40,000 and you would have [to] work 4,000 hours to pay for that same car on your $10 minimum wages... $20 an hour wage would bring wages in line with cost [of] living in B.C." (Sent: Feb. 1, 2014 at 1:46 p.m.)

* "I have a small business. I just heard on the news that you plan to raise the minimum wage to $13 per hour. How do you expect the owners of small businesses to survive and not layoff staff? Who do you think is going to pay in the long run? Am I to go to my clients and tell them I am increasing their monthly bill? They will tell me that it will have to go to tender and they will take the cheapest company they can find and then I will layoff the overpriced unskilled staff. That would be my only recourse." (Sent: March 4, 2014 at 1:01 p.m.)

* "No way should someone at McDonald's be making $13 an hour. Instead make school more affordable. We need a Hand UP not a Hand out!!!" (Sent: March 5, 2014 at 1 p.m.)

* "If you believe that our current minimum wage is adequate, you are demonstrating just how out of touch you are with many of your constituents. I challenge you to live on minimum wage. I challenge you to balance rising rents, insurance premiums, gasoline costs, groceries and the myriad of living expenses that have outpaced the rise in wages. When you try to tell British Columbians to sacrifice a potential wage increase for the good of creating jobs, you do so from a position of extreme privilege. This privilege undermines your credibility to speak with any authority on the issues facing our most vulnerable workers." (Sent on March 5, 2014 at 7:06 p.m.)

* "I have never written a letter to the premier's office before, but I am writing to you now to urge you to raise the minimum wage in B.C. to at least the $13 that [the] minister of labour is recommending. I am presently working for $0.25 above minimum wage and it has occurred to me many times that even if I worked 7 days a week, I would still not earn enough to make ends meet if something should happen to my husband's health or income.... It would absolutely be the best and most righteous thing for you to help push through a minimum wage increase to at least $13. I like to think that you try to do your job without basing your decisions on the results of the next election, but I'm sure you must realize that if you were to increase minimum wage, huge numbers of folks below the poverty line would be motivated to vote for you. I know I certainly would. Please endeavour to do the right thing." (Sent: March 7, 2014 at 3:24 p.m.)

* "I work in retail. As a sales associate me and my co-workers do a lot of work for the companies we work for, but we only get paid $10.25 an hour, because that's the minimum wage for B.C., and as you know B.C. is a very expensive place to live in. So, would you please try to raise the minimum wage AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, so a lot of B.C. residents won't go on welfare or became homeless or won't get into uncontrollable debt. Thank you for your time and I hope you can change peoples lives soon." (Sent: March 28, 2014 at 2:00 p.m.)

* "I cry out to you to help us minimum wage workers also.... Please help the non-government people for a change and think about how far $10.25 per hour would get you. The government should take care of everyone not just their own." (Sent: April 29, 2014 at 6:35 p.m.)

Daughters can't find work

* "I am a father of [two] daughters (in university age). They are looking for work to make some money for their tuition. And they can NOT find a job. One of them worked in [redacted] and was getting only 6-12 hours a week. She applied for other job positions in the spring, but most of them were for maximum 15 hours a week and all required 7 days per week availability. When she said she needs to schedule with her other part-time job, she was not hired (in several places). The fast food restaurants, retail stores and other businesses with startup job opportunities will rather hire many part-time employees for few hours a week to avoid paying payroll deductions or hire foreign workers which will slave for the employer without complaining. So giving the employees minimum wage but more hours would solve half of the problems and opposition claims for higher minimum wages." (Sent: May 16, 2014 at 7:19 a.m.)

* "It is real hard to make ends meet on $10.25 an hour, you should try it. Pay your rent, hydro, gas and phone, and see what you have left for food for two people. There is not much. We would not have to go to the food bank if the wages were higher and food prices did not keep going up all the time. There are going to be more people out of homes with kids if you do not do something soon. I thought you were for the people not yourself, you make good money doing your job, because we as the people pay you.... Do something and put the wages up, it is about time to help the people that put you there." (Sent: Sept. 25, 2014 at 8:59 a.m.)

* "It's time to tackle poverty and income inequality. Using the government's own estimates, a couple with no children who owns a house and takes transit to work would have to earn a combined minimum of $64,613 to just barely get by living in Vancouver. That works out to $16.57 an hour for each person, provided they work full-time hours all year.... Even then, that couple would spend their entire paycheque on basic living expenses with little to no money leftover to spend or most importantly save." (Letter: Oct. 20, 2014.)

* "Why not tie the minimum wage to inflation. A base rate of $10 would increase to about $11 in 5 years if CPI were [two per cent] per year. This approach would stop the annual carping from unions and poverty pimps. The increase would be easily covered for employers since their prices would also be increasing by at least the CPI -- as they always do." (Sent: Dec. 24, 2014 at 6:05 a.m.)

Following is a sample of the government's responses:

In early 2013, this was a premier's office response to someone opposed to any increase in the minimum wage:

"Public input is important and will help us in our efforts to improve policies and services. In that light, we have shared your correspondence with the... minister responsible for labour, for his review. Please be assured your specific comments regarding the increases to the minimum wage will be included in any related discussions."

On Sept. 10, 2013, the premier's office sent this response to a person who wanted the minimum raised:

"Government monitors its services and programs to ensure that they are working as they should and your feedback is helpful in that process. We will be sharing your comments with our minister of jobs, tourism and skills training, and the minister responsible for labour... so that she, too, is aware of your assessment of the minimum wage."  [Tyee]

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