B.C. plans to raise its minimum wage by 2.96%, or $0.45, to $15.65 per hour, on June 1, Labour Minister Harry Bains announced Monday.
He explained that the province's Fair Wages Commission travelled the province, consulting businesses and other stakeholders, and recommended the increase, which was based on a 2.8% inflation rate. The government then rounded up what would have been $15.6256 per hour, to $15.65.
Many business owners expected an increase to the minimum wage on June 1. The B.C. government in 2018 said that it would provide annual increases to the minimum wage each June 1, up until 2021. Back then, B.C.'s minimum wage was $11.35.
Steady increases brought B.C.'s minimum wage to $15.20, on June 1, 2021, which is the highest among provinces and second in Canada only to Nunavut's $16-per-hour minimum wage.
Bains said the government had said that future increases after 2021 would be based on inflation.
Business advocates told BIV, however, that the NDP government promised to provide the business community with at least six months notice of hikes to minimum wages, and of other new expenses that would have an impact on operations.
"This is the second announcement with not a lot of notice," Retail Council of Canada director of government relations Greg Wilson said.
He pointed to B.C.'s announcement on Nov. 24 that it would require all employers to provide staff with five days of sick leave per year, starting on Jan. 1. That announcement also has a significant impact on the labour costs to run small businesses, he added.
"Business craves certainty," he said. "This is uncertainty."
BIV asked Bains why he did not give businesses the six months notice of labour-cost increases that his party had promised.
He said that his government had said that annual minimum-wage increases will match the rate of inflation, and that inflation rates are not available until after the start of the calendar year. He said his government is keeping the June 1 date for minimum-wage increases for consistency. Next year, he added, on June 1, 2023, businesses should expect another minimum wage increase, based on the 2022 inflation rate.
He said businesses should have also been aware well in advance that they would have to start providing sick days to workers, starting in 2022.
Victoria, in May 2021, passed legislation that required businesses on a temporary basis to provide three sick days to each worker in the last seven months of 2021. Business owners were required to tell the government how many of those sick days workers took in order to be reimbursed $200 for each of those days by government.
Bains said the province set aside $320 million for those reimbursements, but business owners claimed only $13 million, or a little more than 4%.
He explained that this was a low amount that shows that the impact on business was comparatively small. Businesses may have even benefited because of gains in recruitment, retention and productivity, he said.
Bains added that he sympathizes with the plight of small business owners, many of which are challenged to break even as the province emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We certainly are aware that the businesses are struggling," he said, adding that B.C. provided more support for business on a per-capita basis during the depths of the pandemic than did any other provincial government in the country.
Wilson said a silver lining for business from today's announcement is that the $0.45-per-hour increase to the minimum wage was less than he expected.