Whistler welcomes minimum wage hikes 

B.C.'s minimum wage to hit $11.25 in 2017

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Whistler welcomed the B.C. government's announcement last week that it would raise minimum wage higher than expected, although it's unclear if the hikes will have a significant impact on local small businesses.

This September, B.C.'s minimum wage will rise from $10.45 an hour to $10.85, before jumping to $11.25 an hour in September 2017.

The hikes, which will move British Columbia out of last place nationally for minimum wage, are roughly four times the increases that were previously announced for implementation by 2017. Last year Victoria said it would peg provincial minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index, which was forecast to result in a 10-cent bump, but with B.C. expected to lead the country in economic growth heading into 2017, the government decided to tack on an additional 30-cent raise.

"The whole request from the business community, and especially the chamber network, was to give us a schedule and have (the increases) be incremental so there are no surprises and we can plan for it, which is what they've done," said Whistler Chamber of Commerce CEO Val Litwin. "So I think we can applaud government for giving us a heads-up and doing it in an incremental fashion so we can all plan accordingly."

But reaction was mixed elsewhere in the province. The B.C. Federation of Labour continues to call for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, claiming that even after two 40-cent increases, minimum wage earners in B.C. will still live below the poverty line. The B.C. Chamber of Commerce was also critical of the move, albeit for different reasons, voicing concern that the two larger-than-expected hikes will be "tough" for some of the chamber's 36,000 members to absorb.

The economic reality in Whistler, however, is much different, Litwin said, and the resort's small business community is less likely to feel the same strain as other areas of the province. According to the chamber's most recent employee survey, which closes Friday, 16 per cent of the more than 1,200 respondents so far said they make between minimum wage and $14 an hour.

"The reason this chamber has been a little more supportive than you would expect your average chamber to be on minimum wage increases is because we understand the role it plays specifically in this community around attracting and retaining teams," Litwin said. "We know Whistler isn't always the cheapest place to live, so this is a good sign for our workforce."

Front-line worker Maddie Leger applauded the planned pay bumps, but called on the resort's largest employer, Whistler Blackcomb, to adjust its current wage structure to stay ahead of the curve.

"I think it's a step in the right direction, but hopefully Whistler Blackcomb takes it forward and pays all their staff the same percentage upgrade or the same amount in upgrades," she wrote in a Facebook message to Pique.

For his part, Whistler Blackcomb's VP of employee experience Joel Chevalier views the increases as positive, and said it's an opportunity for local employers to "(reconsidered) their front-line compensation package.

"We know now exactly what (minimum wage) will be in September 2017, where we haven't had that insight before," he added. "I think that's going to give employers a good year-and-a-half notice as to what wages are going to be in town."

Joey Gibbons, owner of Gibbon Hospitality Group, which operates several bars and nightclubs in town, said it's important that businesses go beyond just offering a livable wage to their staff. (Gibbons said the only minimum-wage positions in his company are front-line workers who are dependent mostly on gratuities.)

"In Whistler, if you want to attract good people, you have to take care of them," he said. "There's a lot of options for them, so if we're not doing a good job looking after the people inside your business, and that's not just with wages, but with everything, then they'll just walk across the street."

As a way to offset the cost of the wage increases, Victoria also announced it would slash the small business tax rate from 2.5 to 1.5 per cent by 2017-18.

-with files from Braden Dupuis

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