Premier Christy Clark has ruled out increasing B.C.’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, but she says there will be a formula announced soon for increases to keep pace with the cost of living.
After meetings between cabinet ministers and B.C. Federation of Labour executives this week, Clark said work is underway to extend the series of increases that brought the minimum wage up to its current rate of $10.25 an hour after a decade with no increase. She said the system has to protect small and medium-sized businesses from big jumps.
“They know that it’s going to go up, but they want to know that it’s going to go up in a predictable way so they can plan for it,” Clark said.
B.C. Fed president Irene Lanzinger said it’s big businesses like fast food chains that offer many of the minimum wage jobs. Of the 120,000 people in B.C. making minimum wage, nearly half are over 25 years old, 63 per cent are women and about 10,000 are aged 55 and older, she said.
Labour leaders were more encouraged after their call for a minimum 25 per cent of jobs for apprentices on publicly funded construction projects.
Lee Loftus, president of the B.C. Building Trades, said unionized contractors have the 25 per cent rule in their collective agreements and fund apprenticeship training. But with the majority of construction now done by non-union companies, there are no quotas for apprentice positions.
Clark said BC Hydro has adopted the 25 per cent standard for the Site C dam project, but other large public infrastructure projects include federal funds. Ottawa wants apprenticeships to be voluntary for those projects, but Clark said she supports the idea in principle.
“If we’re spending this money on public projects anyway, we should be investing in apprenticeships and getting people up the ladder so they can earn more money and go and work in what we know is going to be a huge industry, in liquefied natural gas,” Clark said.
Lanzinger said the B.C. Fed has received little response from the government on its other long-standing issue, the lack of union successorship rights in health care.
A change in contractors triggered layoff notices to 240 Hospital Employees’ Union members this week at Laurel Place, a Surrey long-term care facility.
A contract change for Vancouver Coastal Health cleaning staff has triggered layoff of 935 staff effective this summer.
Lanzinger said the B.C. government’s 2002 exemption of public employers and publicly subsidized private employers from union successorship provisions in the Labour Code has resulted in many contract changes with workers laid off and rehired. The practice is designed to drive down wages and benefits for employees making little more than minimum wages, she said.