July 18, 2000
With a review of the provincial minimum wage under way, Marie Mentz, president of the North Okanagan Labour Council, encourages people think about the plight of the Okanagan's lowest-paid workers.
"B.C. has the second highest minimum wage in the country, but $7.15 an hour is nothing to be proud of," said Mentz. Yukon's minimum wage is $7.20 per hour.
"The provincial government should boost the minimum wage to at least $8 per hour immediately."
Opponents of a minimum wage hike like to claim that an increase will harm the economy and will not help the workers who need it most, but Mentz said studies have shown that is clearly not so.
"Contrary to the popular right-wing belief, most minimum-wage workers are not high school students in summer jobs or family members merely adding to an already healthy family budget. Minimum-wage workers are often single parents struggling to feed their children and university students who are struggling to pay for their education and trying to reduce the long-term burden of student loan payments."
A Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study in September, 1999, revealed minimum wage workers in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec are primarily adults and women, refuting a popular misconception that the majority of minimum wage workers are teenagers living at home in middle-class families. Likewise, B.C. government statistics show almost two-thirds of minimum wage earners are over age 19 and almost two-thirds are women.
The CCPA study showed minimum wage earners are disproportionately represented among families with low-incomes. Thus, increases in the minimum wage will disproportionately benefit low-income families.
Even an $8 per hour minimum wage is inadequate, said Mentz. Minimum wage increases in the 1990s have only gone partway towards restoring the wage to its 1970s levels.
The minimum wage would need to increase to more than $8 per hour simply for a worker's annual gross income (working full-year at 40 hours a week) to reach Statistics Canada's poverty line, according to B.C. government statistics.
Government statistics show a minimum-wage worker now working 35 hours a week with one week's holiday per year grosses only $12,762.75.
The CCPA study declares the minimum wage should be set at $9.15 per hour - the wage required for a full-year worker working 35 hours per week to reach the poverty line.
The CCPA study also shows minimum wage increases have a negligible effect on employment levels. Over the past two decades, large increases in the minimum wage have been followed by both increases and decreases in employment, demonstrating that other trends in the economy influence employment levels to a much greater extent than do minimum wages.
Mentz joins B.C. Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair in arguing, in fact, that a minimum wage increase is good for the economy, by putting more money in consumers' pockets. A tax cut won't help lowly paid workers who already don't pay provincial tax because of their low-income status.
The labour council president is skeptical about business claims that they can't afford to pay minimum wage.
"Some business people merely want to keep wages down to increase their own profits. Those that honestly can't afford to raise wages are obviously having problems that are greater than simply the wages of their lowest-paid employees."
"The minimum wage is an important policy tool to help in the battle against poverty and excessive inequality. We call on Labour Minister Joy MacPhail to raise it immediately to help those workers and families most in need," concluded Mentz.
The province is accepting submissions on the minimum wage until Aug. 5. Submissions can be sent by e-mail to: Labour.Ministry@gems2.gov.bc.ca, by fax to: 250-356-5335, or by mail to: PO Box 9591 Stn Prov Govt, Victoria B.C., V8W 9K4.