Local business owner Kathryn Genereux in her salon, Inspire Hair Design on Blanshard Street. Some merchants won’t be affected by the increase in minimum wage, while others may have to raise prices. Lauren Boothby/VICTORIA NEWS

Local business owners weigh in on minimum wage increase

While the increase is favourable to workers, owners may find the change difficult

Lauren Boothby

VICTORIA NEWS

Local business owners are conflicted on B.C.’s minimum wage hike.

Next month the increase begins in stages as part of a plan to hit $15 per hour by 2021. NDP Labour Minister Harry Bains said the rate will go up by 50 cents, to $11.35 an hour, in September. Liquor servers’ wage will rise by the same amount to $10.10 per hour.

Kathryn Genereux, who owns Inspire Hair Design on Blanshard Street, thinks the change is positive, although her employees are already paid over the current minimum wage and won’t be affected. However, she can understand how difficult it is for other local businesses.

“It is hard to be a small business. We don’t have a lot of the (tax) breaks people think,” she said. “It is hard to pay a substantial wage and make money, so I understand it is difficult. However as an owner you want your staff, your team, to thrive and they can’t thrive off minimum.”

Andrew Millen is one of the owners of Oscar & Libby’s on Fort Street. He said there are pros and cons to the change and he can understand both sides.

He said 2021 seems like a long-way off and a reasonable time frame.

“One thing that crosses my mind is, if your new, inexperienced worker [is hired] at $15 an hour, and then your more veteran worker (is) making a little bit more than that, it’s going to bump everyone up,” he said.

“It’s going to drive the cost of doing business up, so cost of merchandise is going to go up to some degree.”

But he also understands that for those making the current wage, the cost of living is high. “It seems fair that way.”

The previous BC Liberal government had pledged to boost the minimum wage by 50 cents in February, but Bains panned what he called their slow and unpredictable effort.

“We will give it a legal effect so that it will be implemented Sept. 15,” said Bains.

The rate will go up by “incremental and predictable increases,” he told reporters, with a “responsible, fair approach.”

B.C.’s minimum wage is currently the seventh highest rate out of 10 in Canada. The jump to $11.35 will put it at the third highest. Seattle has also promised to increase its minimum wage to $15.

RELATED: B.C. NDP commits to $15 minimum wage

The province will also start a fair wage commission to help employers prepare, he said, and help minimize the impact on small businesses.

“They can actually look at their structure and costs ahead of time,” Bains said. “Workers will have a few dollars more in their pockets and they will … boost our economy.”

The commission will explore how to settle the discrepancy between the proposed minimum wage and what is called the living wage, or what a family of four needs to earn to cover their basic expenses. The latter differs across the province, ranging from $17/hr mid-Vancouver Island to more than $20/hr in Vancouver.

BC Federation of Labour president Irene Lanzinger said she’d like to see the gap between the minimum and liveable wage shrink.

“That is a discussion to be had after we get to $15,” she said. “I’m not in favour of $15 for some and $14 for others because $15 gets you just above the poverty line.”

She added she was pleased with the NDP’s announcement, though she wished the changes were happening faster.

Meanwhile, the head of Surrey Board of Trade said the increase won’t be easy for small business owners.

RELATED: Surrey Board of Trade says minimum wage increase will hit small businesses hard

“We were originally advocates of a minimum wage increase when the Liberals were in power because we’re the lowest minimum wage in Canada as a province and we have the highest child poverty rate in Canada,” Anita Huberman said.

“We were, as a business organization, very different, supporting a minimum wage increase. But the move towards a $15 minimum wage, small business has to prepare now.”

For more on this issue, visit vicnews.com.

– with files from Tom Fletcher

lauren.boothby@vicnews.com

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Pedestrians pass by local small business Oscar & Libby’s on Fort Street. Lauren Boothby/Victoria News

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