Minimal impact felt from minimum wage increase in Columbia Valley

Invermere and area businesses not feeling the sting of wage increase

British Columbia’s minimum wage is increasing 50 cents, effective September 15th. Premier John Horgan said the increase will benefit close to 100,000 British Columbians.

“British Columbia’s lowest-paid workers need a raise,” Premier Horgan announced on Tuesday, August 15th. “The action we’re taking will make life better for working parents, seniors, new Canadians, students and more – these are people struggling to get by.”

The increase is the first step in the NDP government’s promise to bring B.C.’s minimum wage up to $15 an hour. Currently, minimum wage is $10.85 an hour; the increase will bring it to $11.35, making B.C. the third-highest minimum wage across Canada.

The small increase is in response to business owners, according to Labour Minister Harry Bains.

“We’ve listened to business owners who have told us gradual, predictable increases are the way to go to minimize the impact on their businesses,” said Mr. Bains.

Columbia River-Revelstoke Liberal MLA Doug Clovechok said the announcement is “confusing, disingenous and frankly is causing anxiety for small business.”

In the long term, he sees concern for the NDP’s 2021 commitment to $15 per hour.

“Small businesses and employees alike use the minimum wage as a baseline for their operations or salaries and any increase to that baseline will change the expectations of all employees earning a wage based on it,” stated Mr. Clovechok. “In turn this will increase the cost of doing business and the business will either have to pass on the increases to the consumer and hope that they will pay, or cut their profit margins, or lay off workers or reduce their operating hours or spend more time working in their business rather than on their business.”

Jarrett Nixon, co-owner of Invermere’s A&W, said for their business, knowing the wage increase would be coming meant they have started off some staff at higher than minimum wage already.

“We’ve been trying to be proactive about it,” Mr. Nixon said, adding that when it reaches $15 an hour, that will be a much bigger challenge.

For most Valley businesses, the 50 cent increase will not have a great impact as most are already paying more than that to attract employees, such as Leo Burrito and Gerry’s Gelati. Stuart Cope is one of the owners of the two businesses, which collectively employs 30 people.

“As it is, there is a shortage of workers in town. So we have to pay high in order to lock in the good ones,” said Mr. Cope. “I don’t expect (the increase) to affect us that much.”

Neal Vanbeers, owner of Dairy Queen in Invermere and Golden, agreed the issue is not wages; it is finding employees.

“As far as stable work, there’s no one available,” said Mr. Vanbeers. “We need to have people to serve these tourists.”

Mr. Vanbeers has owned the Dairy Queen for four and a half years. He has struggled each summer with finding enough skilled quality workers; this summer, he had to shut down the drive-through because of the shortage.

Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce director Susan Clovechok said when talking to businesses about wage increases, they have found minimal concern by business owners because they tend to be paying more than minimum wage already in order to attract enough labour.

However, she said in the long term, businesses need assurance of what’s going to happen.

“They need to know the government is not going to say, ‘tomorrow or next month, it’s going to bump up,” said Mrs. Clovechok. “The Chamber would like to make sure any increases are tied to the consumer price index.”

The Chamber has done some advocacy for temporary foreign workers, which in the past have helped area businesses to fill in the workforce shortage gap.

Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski said he has heard in small business forums throughout his riding about the need for temporary foreign workers. As to the minimum wage, Mr. Stetski echoed the sentiments of local business owners.

“Many small businesses ay they are already paying or offering substantially more than minimum wage and they still cannot get workers,” said Mr. Stetski. “To say, ‘pay more to get workers’ is too simplistic.”

He said there needs to be solutions based on where the demand is that is not being filled by area residents.

“First and foremost there needs to be an identification of areas where temporary foreign workers are required to fill demand. Secondly, to bring in a program that, in my mind anyway, is a pathway to permanent residency for temporary foreign workers so if you come here on a work visa and you preform well, you contribute to the community, as many foreign workers do when they’re here, then there should be a clear pathway on how to become a citizen or a resident.”

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