B.C.’s new wage rate wins mixed reviews

Labour blasts “first job” pay rate

The British Columbia government has announced what it thought were two items of good news for the province: an increase in the minimum wage, along with measures to decrease youth unemployment.

The previous government had planned to increase the minimum wage to $8/hour as of Nov. 15. The current government, which was sworn in on June 5, has announced that it will honour that commitment, as workers have been counting on the increase. B.C. will have the highest minimum wage in Canada.

According to Minister of Skills and Development Graham Bruce, that fact has not gone over well with small business owners. They predict a higher minimum wage will have a negative impact on job creation.

Given its other objective of reducing youth unemployment (also the highest in Canada), the government was faced with the possibility of sacrificing one commitment to keep another. Its solution was the first-job wage rate.

Workers hired on or after Nov. 15 who have less than 500 hours (roughly six months) of paid work experience will be paid the first-job wage rate of $6/hour. Once they have 500 hours of experience, they will receive the regular minimum wage.

B.C.’s solution is not original. Nova Scotia, the Northwest Territories and Ontario have a special wage rate for student, youth or inexperienced workers.

The B.C. Federation of Labour is not buying the government’s rationale. It calls the first-job wage rate “a direct betrayal” of the government’s New Era campaign promise to deliver “higher pay cheques.” It is also afraid that cuts in the Employment Standards Branch will make it difficult to ensure that young workers receive the regular minimum wage after 500 hours of work.

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