April 22, 2011
B.C'S MINIMUM WAGE EARNERS: STILL THE WORKING POOR
From People's Voice
By Stephen Von Sychowski
Thousands of hard working British Columbian's will get a raise on May 1st. To some, it probably felt like the day would never come. A ten year wage freeze instituted by the Liberal Party under Gordon Campbell has left BC with the lowest minimum wage in the country at $8 ‑ more than $3 below the poverty line and less than half of a living wage.
The minimum wage became a topic of shame in British Columbia, particularly given the province's record levels of homelessness and the highest levels of child poverty in Canada. The BC Federation of Labour and the Canadian Federation of Students launched the $10 NOW campaign in 2007, when $10 was still above the poverty line. The demands of the campaign included an immediate increase to $10, a subsequent increase to $11, the abolition of the hated and ageist "training wage", and indexing the minimum wage to inflation.
Polling by the Federation showed 80% of British Columbian's in favour of an increase as community leaders, faith groups, anti-poverty activists, civic governments, and others, called for a raise. Meanwhile, the young workers movement mobilized against the wage freeze by organizing rallies, information pickets, "freeze's", petitioning blitzes, lobbies, and other actions.
Christy Clark's wage increase should not be mistaken for a change in Liberal policy or direction. The BC Liberals are a party of big business and always will be. This modest increase is merely a public relations move aimed at buoying the sinking Liberal ship left behind by years of disastrous policies including the broadly despised HST. On the other hand, this move would not be necessary if the minimum wage had not been made such a prominent issue in the public eye, the media, and the Legislature. In this respect it is fair to say that the real thanks for the impending increases to the minimum wage belongs in large part to the young workers movement and others who fought for it and made it a public issue that wouldn't go away.
Understandably, minimum wage workers are excited about the impending increase. Any increase is a good increase when full time wages still leave you impoverished, and you are forced perhaps to work two or three jobs just to get by. But at the risk of sounding stereotypical ‑ it doesn't go far enough.
According to Statistics Canada, a worker in BC would have to make at least $11.11 working 40 hours a week and 50 weeks a year in order to reach the poverty line. Of course this would have to be more when dealing specifically with cities that have extraordinary costs of living, like Vancouver.
Furthermore, the poverty line is not the same as a living wage. A living wage means that you can cover your bare bones essentials without going in to debt. It does not include luxuries, savings, owning a home, maintaining debt, or taking holidays. In other words, it means just that ‑ you can live... but that's about it. The living wage for Vancouver is currently $18.81 and for Victoria, $18.03. Visit livingwageforfamilies.ca for more details.
Meanwhile minimum wage will increase to $8.75 this May, $9.50 in November, and finally $10.25 next May. This means that minimum wage workers will still be making $0.86 below the poverty line and less than half a living wage. This is without taking into account the inflation which will take place between now and then.
To make matters worse, the Liberal government has instituted a "server wage" which will reach no more than $9 by next May. Applied to all those who serve liquor on the job, this has been justified with the flimsy suggestion that such workers have their wage subsidized by tips. This ignores that fact that tips are not a guarantee and, even when they are received, they may be stolen by employers or divided amongst the staff as a whole. Moreover, it transfers responsibility for the payment of workers from the employer to the customer.
In other words, the Liberal policy on wages remains aimed at protecting the interest of their corporate masters ‑ those who fund their campaigns and direct their policies. After ten years of no increases, a modest improvement spread over more than a year and three small steps, plus tempered by the implementation of a second wage tier for servers, is hardly justice. The Liberal Party may have changed its leader, but it hasn't and won't change its ways.
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