Minimum Wage

Letter To Editor
Subject: Minimum Wage
Date Sent: October 31, 2011 

To Editor:

On October 29th the provincial Minister of Labour announced an increase in the general minimum wage on November 1st to $9.50 per hour – an increase previously decided upon by Premier Clark in March shortly after she became premier and announced a May 1stadjustment from $8 to $8.75. There are three fundamental deficiencies in the government’s minimum wage policy: 1) the general minimum wage is still too low; 2) the lower minimum wage for liquor servers is discriminatory; and 3) the exclusion of hand harvesting farmworkers from the general minimum hourly wage is discriminatory and out of date.

The general minimum wage is too low by any objective measure such as the poverty line or measures of a “living wage”. The government’s refusal to increase the minimum wage by the rate of increase in the cost of living between 2002 and 2010 meant that minimum wage earners saw a decline in their real income by 16.5% – one of the factors contributing to an increase in income inequality in BC. There are six provinces and territories with higher minimum wages than BC, for example, the minimum wage in Newfoundland is $10 and in Nunavut $11. In addition there is still no mechanism for predictable annual adjustments to the minimum wage such as setting it at the Low Income Cut Off for BC, a standard that currently would put the minimum wage above $11 per hour.

Bowing to pressure from hotel and restaurant employers the government introduced in May of this year a new lower discriminatory minimum wage for liquor servers. The new May 1st liquor server rate was set 25 cents per hour below the general minimum wage, and on November 1st will be 75 cents per hour below the general minimum wage. There is no rational or objective basis for this new form of discrimination. Liquor servers are not the only service workers who receive tips and gratuities. Not all liquor services receive the full amount of the tips that are left for their service. Tips are not wages therefore employers do not include tips and gratuities in the calculation of CPP and EI contributions. There has been no research into the tipping income that all BC liquor servers receive to justify a lower minimum wage.

Farmworkers who hand harvest certain fruit, vegetable, berry or daffodil crops are grossly discriminated against by being excluded from the general hourly minimum wage. Instead their minimum wage is based on an outdated schedule of piece work rates that include 4% for statutory holidays. If these farmworkers work on a statutory holiday they do not receive premium pay as all other workers do. This wage discrimination is compounded by the fact that temporary foreign workers who harvest the same crops are guaranteed an hourly minimum wage. It has long been recognized that these minimum piece rates do no provide farmworkers with wages that over the course of a season are equal to the general hourly minimum wage. However, once again bowing to pressure from farm operators and farm labour contractors, the government has delayed providing a November 1stadjustment to hand harvesting piece rates pending the outcome of a study into the system. Advocates for farmworkers are unanimous that either the piece rate system be abolished altogether or the general hourly minimum wage cover all farmworkers regardless of the crops that they harvest.

The provincial minimum wage discrimination against liquor servers and hand harvesters should be ended because it impacts on some of the most vulnerable and exploited workers in BC that are primarily women, immigrant, part time, casual or seasonal workers.


David Fairey
BC Employment Standards for the Next Decade Coalition
October 31, 2011