Following in the footsteps of a successful campaigns in Seattle and San Francisco to raise the minimum wage to a “living wage” of $15 an hour, labour activists in British Columbia (spearheaded by the BC Federation of labour) are gearing up for a year-long campaign to raise the BC minimum wage to $15 from the current paltry $10.25 an hour.
Most workers stuck at the minimum wage are not high schoolers simply wanting to earn a little extra cash. In BC, 47 per cent of minimum wage earners are 25 or older, including nearly 10,000 over the age of 55. Two thirds are women, and 55 per cent of these workers have been on the job for more than a year. And many (14 per cent) have university degrees.
At the current minimum wage, neither individuals nor families (for example a family of four in which both parents work), make enough to elevate them over the poverty line. According to the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives, a family of four falls around $8,000 short in many provinces at current minimum wages. Currently there are 120,400 British Columbians earning minimum wage. And the 517,749 earning less than $15 an hour, make up 25 per cent of the total labour force in BC.
As a result of such low wages, poverty rates are high in BC (and across the country), with one out of seven adults and one in five children (169,420) living in poverty in BC. Such low wages contribute to high levels of student debt (and no doubt debt levels in general), which is of course a growing socio-economic epidemic across Canada and south of the border.
Apart from these sobering facts, the argument from the BC Federation of Labour, from activists, and 80 per cent of BC residents polled on the subject, is simple; “It’s only fair!” Given the current cost of living, for someone working full time (usually in the most undesirable forms of work), $15 is the “minimum” standard of fairness.
Especially when one considers the affluent nations like Canada and indeed the enormity of wealth that exists in the modern world. In Canada, the top earning 10 per cent make 10 times that of the bottom 10 per cent. They take home more than 40 per cent of national income. The wealthiest 10 per cent of Canadians own more than 50 percent of national wealth and the richest 86 Canadians own more wealth than the bottom 11.4 million. Globally, total wealth is $241 trillion. The richest 10 per cent own 86 per cent of that wealth, and the the top 1 per cent own nearly half at 46 percent. The richest 85 people own more than 3.5 billion of the world’s poorest people.
The defenders of the rich and their business interests claim that raising the minimum wage will hurt us all. Often they claims to be defending small business owners, but 44 per cent of minimum wage workers are employed at firms with a labour force of 500 or more. Studies that have looked into this question, including the meta- study by CCPA economists Jordan Brennan Jim Stanford done in 2014 reveal that there is no consistently significant statistical effect between raising minimum wages and unemployment, nor inflation. Furthermore, in nations with high minimum wages such as Australia (with a minimum wage of $16.37) or where the lower end of the wage scale is high and the level of income inequality is low, such as it is in Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark) there is no discernible impact on employment or inflation.
In the Scandinavian countries not only are wages higher, but there are more restrictions on businesses in the form of higher taxes, environmental regulations and better labour standards. None of which stops business from making a profit, or ruins the economy.
As opposed to the business community demands that we sacrifice our wages for their profits, we need to set labour standards high and force the business community to live up to them. Under capitalism we need them to take from and exploit us or we starve to death, despite the fact that we are the source of their profits. Go to www.fightfor15bc.ca to get involved.