POLITICS

B.C. unions call for minimum wage to increase to $13, the poverty-line level

03/04/2014 01:29 EST | Updated 05/04/2014 05:59 EDT
VICTORIA - British Columbia's union leaders are calling for an immediate increase in the minimum wage to $13 an hour from the current $10.25.

Raising the minimum wage is one of several issues labour leaders plan to raise in meetings with Premier Christy Clark and Jobs Minister Shirley Bond, B.C. Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair said Tuesday.

The delegation, which includes representatives of private and public sector union workers, is scheduled to meet Clark on Wednesday.

Pressing the Liberal government to improve apprenticeship training and encouraging it to lobby the federal government to make changes to the temporary foreign worker program are also on the agenda, Sinclair said.

"That $13 represents the poverty line and we believe that no government should tolerate a wage in British Columbia that when you go to work full-time, you're not at the poverty line for a single person."

B.C.'s current minimum hourly wage was increased to $10.25 in May 2012, after a decade-long freeze, but Sinclair said it's not enough to pay monthly bills.

He said the unions want the government to boost the wage to $13 an hour immediately, followed by annually adjusted cost of living increases.

"Let's get it to the poverty level and move it up from there," Sinclair said.

But Shirley Bond, the minister responsible for labour, said raising the minimum wage was not one of her top priorities and she offered little hope to the labour leaders.

"I have made a commitment to monitor the issue of the minimum wage," she said. "But we ran on an (election) promise to increase it. It had not been raised in 10 years and Premier Christy Clark did that. We raised it three times. We'll continue to monitor, but, certainly, I'm not making a commitment today to increase the minimum wage."

A minimum wage of $13 an hour would be the highest in Canada. Ontario is slated to raise its minimum wage to $11 an hour in June.

Sinclair said the unions will also ask Clark to lobby Ottawa to adjust the current temporary foreign worker program to stop employers from using foreign workers to fill entry-level jobs at the expense of British Columbians entering the workforce.

Sinclair said thousands of temporary foreign workers are being hired to work at fast-food outlets and other traditional first-job businesses, at the expense of young British Columbians or immigrants seeking jobs.

"We should stop bringing in temporary foreign workers for entry-level jobs in B.C.," he said.

The temporary foreign workers programs was originally used to bring in skilled workers for short time periods, but now foreign workers are filling low-skill, first-time jobs, and often at lower pay rates, Sinclair said.

The union leaders would also like to see the government include apprenticeship quotas in major capital projects. Sinclair didn't provide numbers, but the labour leaders want the government to ensure apprentice workers would comprise part of the workforce on government projects, Sinclair said.