Labour pushing for $15 per hour minimum wage

NANAIMO – Labour groups pushing for province-wide minimum increase to $15/hr by end of 2015.

Following meetings between the B.C. Federation of Labour and provincial ministers last week, B.C. premier Christy Clark said she won’t raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour but will announce a formula to incrementally raise the minimum wage to keep pace with the cost of living.

Irene Lanzinger, B.C. Federation of Labour president, said in an interview in February B.C.’s $10.25 per hour minimum wage hasn’t been raised since 2012 and she wants to see it raised to $15 per hour by the end of 2015.

The $15 per hour rate was chosen to bring minimum wage workers above the annual wage poverty line.

“You actually have to earn $13.64 an hour to be at the poverty line, so $15 an hour puts you 10 per cent above the poverty line. That’s all,” Lanzinger said. “So people working full-time should not be living in poverty and hundreds of thousands of British Columbians are working at minimum wage.”

Lanzinger argues higher minimum wages boosts the economy and employment.

“When we raised the minimum wage from $8 to $10.25 the level of employment went up; we actually saw more people get jobs … because there’s all that money going back into the economy,” Lanzinger said.

Tom Mulcair, federal NDP leader, said in Nanaimo Tuesday the party is pushing for $15 an hour for federal government employees.

Large U.S. retailers, municipalities and states are raising wage rates too. Seattle will raise its rate to US$15 over a seven-year period.

Raimo Martalla, Vancouver Island University economics professor, said in an e-mail he favours incremental wage hikes and suggests real inflation-adjusted minimum wage should realistically be about $11 per hour.

“According to the data, the highest real minimum wage was in 1975, when $2.75 had the purchasing power of $9.11, as measured in constant 2002 dollars,” he said. “For today’s minimum wage to match that, the wage rate should be close to $11 per hour.”

Scott Henderson, owner of The Buzz Coffee House, said his company couldn’t survive a sudden wage hike to $15 per hour, but suggested giving minimum wage earners tax exemption on necessities, such as clothing.

“People could have a sticker on their B.C. Medical card. You could show your card to us and we could just hit a ‘tax exempt’ button,” Henderson said. “We haven’t raised minimum wage, I haven’t raised my prices, you have greater buying power.”