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Industry braces for B.C.’s June 1 minimum wage hike

The hike will add costs for restaurant and retail owners as they reopen locations
A server wearing a plastic shield attends to customers at Vancouver's Ancora bistro | Glen Korstrom

Most minimum wage workers in B.C. are set to get a 5.4% increase in pay on June 1, as the COVID-19 pandemic ravages the sales and profits for many of their employers.

B.C.’s minimum wage is set to rise to $14.60 per hour, up from $13.85 per hour, with liquor servers seeing their minimum wage rise to $13.95 per hour, up from $12.70.

The hikes have long been planned, and they are part of government’s multi-year staged process to eventually get the province’s minimum wages above the $15-per-hour threshold that the labour movement has long sought. B.C.'s minimum wage is set to rise to $15.20 on June 1, 2021.

The hike this year comes after B.C.'s unemployment rate sat in April at 11.5%, with nearly 400,000 British Columbians losing their jobs since March, according to Statistics Canada. 

Industry representatives believe the government should at least postpone the wage hikes but were not expecting that accommodation because Premier John Horgan’s NDP government has made raising the minimum wage a core part of its mandate.

“They really haven’t done much at all for business,” Retail Council of Canada’s director of government relations, Greg Wilson told Business in Vancouver on May 31.

He would like to see the B.C. government temporarily ban landlords from evicting commercial tenants, much like the B.C. government has banned residential landlords from evicting tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Restaurants and retailers would benefit from a moratorium on commercial evictions,” Wilson said. “That would make more landlords apply for the federal rent program, but the B.C. government hasn’t done that. Meanwhile New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have done that. Ontario is looking at it.”

(Update: One day after this story appeared, the B.C. government announced that landlords would not be able to evict small business owners who had lost 70% of thieir revenue during the pandemic) 

Ottawa requires landlords, not tenants, to apply for its rent-relief program despite that program directly benefitting tenants.

The program triggers the federal government stepping in to directly pay the landlord 50% of the tenant’s rent, and it requires the tenant to pay 25% of the rent. The landlord then foregoes 25% of the rent.

Many landlords have refused to apply for the program because they do not want to forfeit 25% of the rent. Instead, they allow tenants to defer paying rent, which means that tenants are on the hook for the entire rent at a future date.

BC Restaurant and Food Services Association CEO Ian Tostenson would like Horgan to put pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to tweak his commercial rent-relief program to protect tenants.

Like Wilson, Tostenson was not surprised that the B.C. government is going ahead with its minimum wage hikes, although he would like the hikes to be delayed at least six months.

He likes that the B.C. government has allowed employers to defer some taxes, and that it has newly allowed restaurant owners to deliver alcohol. The government is also in talks to allow restaurant owners to buy alcohol at a wholesale price, instead of having to pay full retail price. 

There is more, however, that it can do, he said.

“The minimum wage increase clearly should be postponed,” Tostenson told BIV on May 31. “It’s not the time to raise more costs for business because there is just no revenue to support this. There’s not enough business right now to get restaurants reopened, let alone be faced with higher costs.”

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