BC needs a living wage already


[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e live in one of the most expensive cities in the country, so why is our minimum wage the lowest? British Columbia has been through this before. Unlike in many jurisdictions, our minimum wage has not been linked to inflation or the cost of living. It’s been on a roller-coaster ride from the highest in the country at $8 in 2001 to becoming the lowest in 2011, which prompted the raise to $10.25 in 2012.

We have once again been pushed to the back of the pack, as we currently sit at $10.45 per hour. The provincial government is attempting to catch up by increasing the wage to $10.85 this September, with another 40 cents promised in September 2017, to bring it to $11.25. By that time, of course, other provinces may increase their own wages further and BC may once again find itself in the same position.

The problem with our current wage and its measly increases is that those working full-time at this wage still fall well below the poverty line. An employee working 35 hours per week in this situation would only bring in $1,463 per month (before any taxes and deductions). Global News reported that the average rental rate for a two-bedroom apartment in Vancouver was $1,345 in 2015 — how is someone on minimum wage supposed to survive in this city?

Now imagine that person has a child or elderly parent as a dependent. It’s impossible to see how they would make ends meet. 

A study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in 2015 found that the wage needed to live in Vancouver was $20.68 an hour — about double the current minimum wage. So what should the minimum wage be to ensure that nobody working full-time is living below the poverty line?

What would help Vancouver, and other BC cities with high living costs, is if municipal wage laws were passed to tailor income rates to these specific areas.

The BC Federation of Labour (BCFED) has led many wage increase campaigns over the years, and now they are leading Fight for 15, a campaign to raise the wage to $15. According to the BCFED, a $15 minimum wage would bring the average worker above the poverty line using all the regular poverty measures, including the Low Income Cut-Off, Low Income Measure, and Market Basket. Nobody working full-time should be living in poverty, and it’s time our provincial government recognized that. 

September’s wage increase is a step in the right direction to ensure that the wage is not left in the hands of politicians, and the vulnerable are not left to decade-long freezes; the problem remains, though, that the current wage is not high enough to cover the current cost of living in our province. 

In Seattle, where the City has the authority to pass a municipal minimum wage law, they brought in a $15 wage in April 2015, to be phased in completely by 2021. California and New York are now following suit.

Back in BC, we have an incredibly high cost of living and our minimum wage is not keeping pace. Instead of working to remedy this, our government is making paltry increases just so they can state that they are not economically last in the country. What would help Vancouver, and other BC cities with high living costs, is if municipal wage laws were passed to tailor income rates to these specific areas.

These 20- and 40-cent gestures are too little too late, and everyone suffers when our lowest paid workers are living in impoverished conditions.