Instead, the provincial government has announced that it will increase the minimum wage by 20 cents in September, and link it to BC’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation increases annually.
VIU’s Students’ Union (VIUSU) Director of External Relations Alec Patterson spoke about the impact this will have on minimum wage workers.
“The 20 cents increase in my opinion is infuriating,” said Patterson. “It shows the stance of the provincial government on this issue, and they don’t see it as an issue. Tying minimum wage with the rate of inflation is counterproductive.”
The Canadian Federation of Students-BC joined the British Columbia Federation of Labour’s call to increase minimum wage to $15 per hour. In addition to helping curb poverty, an increase would help students tackle the mounting student debt crisis. The Bank of Montreal estimates average student debt after a four-year degree is about $35k, said a press release from CFS-BC.
At the January 2015 CFS-BC general meeting, delegates from around the province voted to endorse the Fight for $15 campaign.
“Minimum wage should immediately be increased so no one working 40 hours a week is forced to live below the poverty line,” said Zachary Crispin, Chairperson of CFS-BC. “The whole point of identifying a poverty line is to keep citizens above it.”
“The board hasn’t formally endorsed it at our individual students’ union, but we have an upcoming board meeting where we will have a presentation from the Canadian Labour Congress who will speak about the campaign with request for endorsement,” said VIUSU’s Executive Director Michael Olson.
At $10.25 per hour, $6.00 below the poverty line for full-time workers, BC’s minimum wage is one of the lowest in Canada. At the current minimum wage, it takes students about 550 hours of work just to pay for tuition fees.
Patterson and Olson both addressed concerns about the impact a higher minimum wage would have on small businesses.
“[The government says] it will ruin small businesses, which isn’t the case at all,” Patterson said. “If you pay your employees higher, everyone will be paying the same price. People will be out of poverty and have disposable income that they can spend on the businesses. And it would be an incremental increase so businesses can adapt to it.”
“The outcry against $15 an hour is the same as the outcry to $10 an hour was,” Olson said. “What’s happened is there was a very small amount of businesses that were negatively affected and a huge amount of British Columbians that were positively affected. Minimum wage right now keeps people in poverty. $15 an hour puts people 10 percent above the poverty cut-off. Pegging a minimum wage to inflation pegs people to always be in poverty and allows the government every year to say that minimum wage is going up.”
A report by First Call: the BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition released last November revealed that approximately 1 in 5 BC children were living in poverty in 2012, and that this number was growing. The report also found that BC had the second highest rates of poverty among provinces at 16.1 percent.
“Cutting taxes for the wealthy, adding fees to public services, and refusing to support a fair minimum wage will only result in increased poverty rates for BC families,” said Crispin.
Olson and Patterson also addressed concerns around secondary school students having a minimum wage of $15 an hour.
“It will help them afford to save for post-secondary education,” Olson said. “So what if teenagers are being paid $15 an hour? How else are they going to afford to save?”
“And even if they don’t go to post-secondary, they are still contributing to the local economy because they have that disposable income,” Patterson said.
The CFS-BC is composed of post-secondary students from 15 universities and colleges in every region in BC. Post-secondary students in Canada have been represented by the Canadian Federation of Students and its predecessor organizations since 1927.