Chamber concerned over minimum wage increase

The Fernie Chamber of Commerce is concerned over the provincial government’s intention to increase the minimum wage in the coming years.

The Fernie Chamber of Commerce, along with the BC Chamber of Commerce, is concerned over the provincial government’s intention to increase the minimum wage in the coming years.

Currently, B.C.’s minimum wage is $10.45 per hour, and is the lowest in Canada. Christy Clark’s Liberal government announced on May 3 its intention to increase the minimum wage twice in the next year and a half. The first increase is set for Sept. 16 of this year, when the minimum wage will increase by 40 cents to $10.85. Clark’s next increase will be in September 2017, by 40 cents to bring it to $11.25.  Compared to other provinces and territories, the increase will make B.C.’s minimum wage middle of the road in Canada. The highest minimum wage is $13 in Nunavut.

Patty Vadnais, executive director at the Fernie Chamber of Commerce, wants the government to provide more consistency and predictability in minimum wage increases, allowing businesses to effectively plan.

“The minimum wage could jump to $11.25 so that added expense, if you’re not able to plan for it, can really affect the bottom line,” she said.

According to Vadnais, there are 94,000 people province-wide earning minimum wage, and 93 per cent of those jobs are in the service sector – hotels, retail stores and the food service industry. Vadnais pointed to Fernie’s service sector as being most heavily impacted by the proposed increases.

“In Fernie, there are roughly 20 businesses that are in the service sector so they are going to be impacted by this,” she said. “Owners are going to have to make decisions like do they cut back the hours for their employees to compensate for that extra expense? Do owners now have to work more shifts because they have to cover those expenses?”

Vadnais does not believe that an increased minimum wage will help businesses, even if, theoretically, people were to have more disposable income to spend on goods and services.

“I don’t think that will be the effect for us because most of our businesses are already paying above minimum wage so they are trying to pay that living wage for people. Our labour market has already demanded that we pay more than the minimum wage,” she said.

Vadnais would like to see more predictability in minimum wage increases and for it to increase according to the consumer price index (CPI) to account for inflation.