EDITORIAL: Fairness needed in minimum wage

Fair wages make sense, but there's always consequences to raising a business expense

There’s a strong movement afoot, led by the B.C. Federation of Labour, to raise this province’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

On the surface, having the lowest minimum wage in Canada, when our provincial government boasts that our economy is one of the best performing in the country, makes no sense and is the height of unfairness. It says that the rich are getting richer, on the backs of working-class citizens.

While it would be great if everyone could make more money, it’s not as simple as arguing that people making $10.45 an hour need more money to pull them out of apparent poverty.

Pushing the minimum wage up to $15 in one fell swoop, as the B.C. Fed is asking for, could have unintended consequences. Would it force small businesses to lay employees off, or worse, shut down due to the higher cost of labour? Or would they simply raise prices significantly to cover the additional cost?

Either move could potentially have a net negative effect on the economy, with either less people working or goods become less affordable for those at the bottom end of the wage scale.

According to the B.C. Fed, about 6.4 per cent of workers in our province make minimum wage, with more than half of those women (63 per cent) and 10,000 of them seniors. We’d all like to see income equality for women and we’d certainly like to see seniors be able to retire on their pensions.

That 6.4 per cent equates to about 120,000 people. But many of those are young people in their first job, for example, or bar and restaurant servers for whom tips can raise their income substantially – although bar servers’ lower minimum of $9.20 per hour cuts into that.

The question is, does it make sense to increase the minimum wage more than 40 per cent at one time for a relatively small number of workers, when the consequences could force all of us to pay more for goods and services? It’s anybody’s guess how such a move might play out here in B.C., and how long it would take to have an effect.

Certainly no one, least of all the folks who operate support organizations such as the Goldstream Food Bank, wants to see poverty continue to be a growth industry.

The need for the government to move more quickly on raising minimum wage is less about the optics of the national rankings and more about allowing more workers to gain more buying power. The province should set the goal of getting to $15 an hour, but do it in a way that allows business to adjust on a more gradual basis.

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