A Kelowna business owner says consumers will pay for the minimum wage being raised to $15 by 2021.
Kim Williams, owner of the downtown shop Wild Kingdom, said small businesses will have to change their hours and raise prices to make up for increased wages.
“It’s not going to be that noticeable for people, but we have no choice as a small business and we want to stay open for those hours to make it convenient.”
Williams said prices will go up in retail stores and restaurants and she is already concerned about adjusting her store’s hours.
“I’m open seven days a week, so am I going to have to cut some of the evening hours out? Am I going to have to open later in the morning? The problem is that I have customers coming in at all times,” she said.
Williams said the hardest hit with the increase in wages will be small businesses that employ local people who don’t have the education to work elsewhere.
“It’s that mom that’s been at home. It’s that girl out of school,” she said.
Small Canadian businesses are already having a hard time competing with online stores and big box outlets, she said.
Williams has six employees. Currently, the minimum wage is $10.85 which will increase to $11.35 Sept. 15.
Former premier Christy Clark first announced a two-stage plan to raise the minimum wage last May. The first stage, last September, upped the rate to $10.85, based on a 10-cent inflation increase and an extra 30 cents that the province committed.
There will be an impact on businesses any time the minimum wage is raised, according to Dan Rogers, executive director of the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce.
“Any setting of future rates should revolve around the consumer index and the cost of inflation,” he said.
Rogers said many of the chamber’s members have employees who are paid above the minimum wage, but there is concern for small businesses.
“Those who are paying minimum wage, it will affect their labour cost so they’ll have to adjust by passing on price increases to their customers or cut back hours of operation to manage their costs which may result in greater unemployment.
“So it’s a complex issue that isn’t solved by jacking up minimum wage or pulling a number together,” he said.
He said the biggest message the chamber has received from its members is having long-term certainty for wages and having small businesses engaged in the conversation with the provincial government.
Michelle Novakowski, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society, is making the argument for a living wage rather than increasing the minimum wage.
“The minimum wage is not a living wage. It traps people either in more than one job, working more than 40 hours a week, which puts children at risk because parents are out working to pay the rent. It also puts women in poverty, making them more dependant (on their partners),” she said.
Novakowski said a majority of minimum wage workers are women and a majority of families living in poverty are families relying on single mothers. She can understand why the provincial government is raising the wage in increments but there needs to be a standard of living where people can afford rent and feed themselves, she said.
“Minimum-wage people, some of them are living in their cars. They’re the working poor.”
Novakowski thinks the living wage could reduce crime. In the society’s shopping-alternatives program, she said a majority of shop lifting is done for food.
“What we’re finding with our clients is groceries are what they’re stealing,” she said.
Increasing the minimum wage to $15 is a step in the right direction because in some areas in B.C. $15 is considered to be the living wage, but the living wage will increase in the next two years to more than that amount, she said.