By Stephen Von Sychowski
On July 1, the lowest minimum wage in Canada fell even further behind when Newfoundland raised its level to $10/hour. It has been almost nine years since British Columbia's minimum wage was increased to $8/hour in 2001, at the same time that the ageist "training wage" was instituted at $6/hour.
In late June, young workers and other volunteers from the BC Federation of Labour and the Employee Action & Rights Network protested at a McDonald's restaurant in East Vancouver.
"McDonald's and other low-wage employers in BC are real beneficiaries of the minimum wage freeze," said BC Fed president Jim Sinclair, in a media release sent out to mark the demo. "McDonald's will pay as little as possible and our low minimum wage means McDonald's workers in BC earn the lowest starting wages anywhere in Canada."
McDonald's highlights the way in which huge corporations profit from BC's below-poverty level wages. While a part time worker starting at McDonald's in St. John's would be paid $10.25 by law, in BC the same worker would be paid as little as $6.75 and could legally be paid as little as $6. Contrary to the claims of right wing economists and politicians to the effect that higher wages automatically mean higher prices, the cost of eating at McDonald's is the same in St. John's as in Vancouver. Meanwhile, a minimum wage worker in BC would have to make $13.21/hour to have a comparable standard of living to that of their Newfoundland counterparts. In other words, big business in BC is simply pocketing the "savings" from paying lower wages as higher profits.
The McDonald's protest was far from the only action against the Liberal government's wage freeze in recent months. Both the BC Fed's $10 NOW campaign, and the Living Wage campaign, have mobilized in different ways for increased wages. Many activists on these campaigns have been young workers. Some of the most exciting developments recently have been the adoption of a living wage policy by municipalities including New Westminster, and the formation of the Employee Action & Rights Network. EARN is educating non-union workers about their rights and fighting to ensure that those rights are respected at work.
The situation of wages in BC, and the living conditions of those who make those wages, may be dismal. But it looks like Gordo and the Liberals could have a rocky couple of pre-election years in store if these movements continue to grow, and to build towards involving the masses of non-union workers who are most directly affected by these issues into these excellent struggles that organized labour has launched.