EDITORIAL: Minimum wage is a complicated thing

Placing a value on work is tricky, especially when economic factors differ elsewhere

Labour leaders in British Columbia looking for a big jump in the province’s minimum wage were disappointed with the modest .20 cents an hour hike.

At the same time, those who actually make the minimum collectively shrugged at the raise, which amounts to about $30 per month more for full-time workers, less taxes and other deductions.

The B.C. Federation of Labour, and one of the people the Gazette spoke to for the story in this issue, wanted to see the rate pushed up to $15 an hour, a more liveable wage for full-timers trying to make ends meet.

Owners of small and medium-sized businesses whose input the province used to determine the hike claimed boosting the rate from $10.25 an hour to $15 would kill many of their operations. Maybe so, but the whole discussion prompted a number of questions.

Should someone who is just starting out in their working life and happy to have money in their pocket make the same as someone trying to pay rent or raise a family?

And when we hear about fast-food outlets in Alberta’s oil patch country paying upwards of $18 an hour – far more than on the West Shore – does it mean workers here are valued less, despite doing the same job?

Business owners talk about paying what “the market will bear.” In other words, that means paying as much as the place down the street in the same industry.

To get brutally frank about it, operators of traditionally low-wage businesses will generally pay as little as possible while maintaining the ability to attract staff.

To some that might sound as if business owners are all greedy individuals who put profits ahead of people.

It’s not as simple as that. The majority of entrepreneurs and small business owners aren’t getting rich, they’re simply making a comfortable living, to which everyone is entitled. As well, individuals have the right to refuse to work for minimum wage, and many do.

Is it up to every business owner to help their staff get ahead, at the risk of shuttering their business? We think not. But we do appreciate those that make it a point to pay more than minimum out of respect for their staff.

Doing so helps, even in a small way, produce happier, healthier people, which is good for everyone.