B.C. Keeping Its Own Counsel on Minimum Wage

Ontario and Alberta minimum wage experience not necessarily relevant, says labour minister.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 4 Jan 2018 |

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here

British Columbia’s Minister of Labour says the experience of Ontario and Alberta likely won’t affect how B.C. implements a provincial $15-an-hour minimum wage.

Ontario’s minimum wage jumped 20 per cent from $11.60 per hour to $14 on Monday en route to reaching the $15 mark next January. B.C. is in the middle of deciding how it will introduce the wage by 2021.

A report from the Fair Wages Commission established in October is due in a matter of days. Harry Bains said although it’s important to keep an eye on the experiences of places like Ontario and Alberta, the commission’s advice is more important to B.C.

“You learn from other jurisdictions and their experiences,” Bains said. “I think the issue is whether there’s any relevancy between different jurisdictions.”

Ontario has seen an explosion in the percentage of workers earning minimum wage in the province at more than 11 per cent compared to 6.3 per cent 10 years ago, according to some reports.

But the Ontario increase to $14 isn’t across the board. A limited number of sectors are subject to “special” minimum wages, sometimes higher and sometimes lower than the regular minimum wage. Those rates will increase by the same percentage as the standard minimum pay.

For example, minimum wages for those serving liquor went from $10.10 an hour to $12.20 with Monday’s increase.

Business groups in Ontario have come out strong against the wage increase, threatening it will cause job losses and “unintended consequences.”

In B.C., similar arguments have been made by some opponents, but Bains said most business groups in the province are more concerned with stability and an incremental increase in the wage rather than a big change overnight.

“They’re looking for certainty,” Bains said. “They’re looking for gradual increase so that they have the time to absorb the labour cost so that they can build it into their costs going forward.”

Bains wouldn’t hint at how B.C. might roll out its own wage increase, saying he didn’t want to “pre-judge” the commission’s conclusions.

About 4.8 per cent of those employed in B.C. earned minimum wage in 2016, according to statistics provided by BC Stats.

Alberta also set out on the path to a $15 minimum wage in October 2016 with the goal of hitting the mark this fall.

But Ontario’s experience will likely be more useful to B.C., said Mark Thompson, a labour expert and professor emeritus at the University of B.C.’s Sauder School of Business.

Thompson has followed B.C.’s wage consultation closely and supports the implementation of a $15-per-hour minimum wage.

He said workers getting the raise will likely spend the money on life necessities. He dismissed concerns by some there will be job losses, arguing they will be “minimal to none.”

Better paying employment, such as in Ontario’s manufacturing sector, isn’t likely to be affected by the increase either, according to Thompson.

“General Motors is not going to make a decision based on the minimum wage,” he said.

Thompson added the wage increase could also result in easing a labour shortage in Ontario, though it is mostly for skilled labour because a pay hike could encourage some to stay in or rejoin the workforce, even if they’ve retired.

He said the argument that a $15 minimum wage will create sweeping job losses and hurt business has run its course. Thompson said the media often feeds the perception of risk through poor reporting that often focuses on an unhappy employer.

“They never really try. They just haul out some stooge and say he’s going to be devastated and he’s somehow an exemplar for the economy,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out in 2018.”  [Tyee]

Read more: Rights + Justice

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