Whistler's business community is welcoming the modest increase to B.C.'s minimum wage announced last week, as well as a new system that will pin the general hourly and liquor server wage to the province's Consumer Price Index (CPI).
Effective Sept. 15, the general hourly minimum wage will rise from $10.25 to $10.45, while the base-level liquor server wage will see a similar jump, from $9 to $9.20 an hour. While it's the first bump in B.C. in nearly three years, Victoria expects to see more "reasonable and predictable" annual increases in the future with minimum wage based on a formula that uses the percentage the CPI increased in the previous calendar year. In years when there is a negative CPI change, the minimum wage will remain the same.
"The government (has) demonstrated that it's listened to business, specifically the linkage to CPI, which is going to give businesses the ability to plan more effectively for the future," said Joel Chevalier, VP of employee experience for the resort's largest employer, Whistler Blackcomb. "The second reason I think it's positive is that the new structure has demonstrated that government is listening to British Columbian employees and no longer will the minimum wage stay stagnant for many years."
But not all have welcomed the announcement. UBC labour economist David Green was recently quoted in calling the new wage standard "laughably low," while the BC Federation of Labour continues to lobby officials to increase the minimum wage to $15 to account for inflation and help combat the second highest poverty rate in the country.
But such a drastic jump would spell disaster for small businesses, said Whistler Chamber of Commerce CEO Val Litwin.
"There's been talk of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour — that's completely untenable for a small business," he said. "You can't just jump to that overnight; there needs to be a plan. I think the consultation was good on this and I like the certainty both for businesses and employees."
Still, Litwin said that resort employers should determine if their wages put them in a competitive position to attract the right workers.
"Whistler businesses still need to go back and say, 'OK great, there's an increase (to minimum wage). Is that going to be enough to make sure I'm able to hire the team I need to deliver the guest experience I need to ensure I have a healthy business?' That's a question I think forward-thinking, responsible business owners will still be asking themselves," he said.
While he called the modest wage increase "fair," Hilton Whistler Resort GM Stephen Webb warned of the potential consequences of a booming B.C. economy on the labour market.
"When the economy heats up, whether that allows minimum wage to keep step, with perhaps larger increases that are not controlled, that might become an issue and the gap might become larger," he said.
There are currently 110,400 minimum -age earners in B.C., representing nearly six per cent of the paid workforce.