BRITISH COLUMBIA

B.C. Minimum Wage Should Be $15, Say Unions

03/16/2015 06:01 EDT | Updated 05/16/2015 05:59 EDT
VICTORIA - Victoria store manager Melissa Corbin supports a $15 minimum wage, but she also the understands the difficulties businesses have in making ends meet, especially in Victoria's tough retail market.

Corbin, a 22-year old university student, watched on Monday as union protesters representing the BC Federation of Labour and the BC Teachers' Federation marched downtown and past the Bead Shop business where she works.

"I don't make $15 an hour," she said.

"My employees make minimum wage. I don't make much more than that myself. It's a struggle. I wish I could give them all $15, but I wish I could give myself that too."

Last week, the B.C. government said it will increase the minimum wage by 20 cents, to $10.45 an hour, in September, the first increase since 2011. Future regular increases will be determined by indexing the rate to B.C.'s consumer price index.

A separate minimum wage for workers who serve alcohol will rise to $9.20, up from $9.

Labour and social rights groups called the increase paltry, saying it does not help the thousands of B.C. families living in or near poverty to get ahead.

Some business organizations said the increase strikes a balance between labour and business costs.

BC Federation of Labour President Irene Lanzinger, who participated in the Victoria march, said the labour movement is committed to fighting for a $15 minimum wage in B.C.

She called the government's 20-cent increase "pathetic."

"The public gets it," she said. "Twenty cents does not do it for workers in this province."

Lanzinger said businesses would benefit from higher wages because workers would spend more money in local shops.

"When workers have money in their pockets it's good for the economy," said Lanzinger. "They don't sock it away in a Swiss bank account."

Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker said 120,000 British Columbians are currently working at minimum-wage jobs and that 65 per cent of those workers are women.

"The fight is not over," he said. "The fight is beginning. We have to lift British Columbians out of poverty."

Corbin said many businesses are fighting to survive, and the line between closing down or staying open depends on controlling costs.

"I love this company and they are struggling too with the market," she said about her employer. "I wouldn't even feel comfortable asking for a raise. It's hard, you go around Victoria right now and you see all the for lease signs."

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