B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair was in Prince George on Thursday to raise awareness about worker rights and the need for a higher minimum wage.
The B.C. Fed is launching the Employee Action and Rights Network (EARN) to provide information to workers about what they’re legally entitled to as workers and act as an advocacy group, particularly for non-union workers.
Often workers are afraid to raise issues with their employers for fear of losing their job, Sinclair said.
“They can contact us at EARN. They need someone to represent them, and they need to be anonymous. We will never give your name to anybody,” Sinclair said. “Why should (employees) be afraid to ask their employers to follow the law?”
Many employees aren’t even aware what their rights are when it comes to things like breaks and overtime pay, he said.
“If you work over eight hours (in a day), and you don’t agree otherwise, they have to pay overtime,” Sinclair said. “Often servers are forced to pay for dine and dashes. It’s illegal, but it happens all the time.”
Sinclair said cuts to B.C. Employment Standards Branch have undermined worker rights in the province.
“They used to do audits on whole industries. Now they don’t do any of that,” he said. “When you take away enforcement you reward bad behaviour. The good employers are being punished because they follow the rules.”
Sinclair also was in Prince George to promote the ongoing battle to increase the minimum wage from $8 per hour to $10 per hour and get rid of the $6 training wage.
“It was $8 in 2001 and everything has gone up but the minimum wage,” Sinclair said. “We’ve gone from the highest cost of living and the highest minimum wage to the highest cost of living and lowest minimum wage. That’s not the way build a good economy.”
The minimum wage in other provinces and territories range from $8.70 to $10.25 per hour. Only B.C., Alberta and PEI have a minimum wage lower than $9 per hour.
“Ten dollars an hour is no great wage, let me tell you, but it’s better than $8 or $6,” Sinclair said. “These people making $10 an hour aren’t hiding it away somewhere in RRSPs. They’re spending it.”
Sinclair said concerns raised by some business organizations about the impact on businesses, especially small businesses, are unfounded.
“I want to ask people who think good wages are bad for the economy, What do they think their small business is built on?’ Small businesses don’t survive on $8 an hour, they pay it,” he said.
The B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association and Victoria Chamber of Commerce are two business organizations which have recognized that higher wages give people more spending power, he said.
“And if you work 40 hours a week and are still in poverty, maybe that’s a job we don’t want,” Sinclair said. “I think the MLAs who had no trouble voting for their own wage increase should do the right thing and increase the minimum wage.”
On Sept. 20 the minimum wage issue was before city council. Council was asked by the B.C. Federation of Labour to renew its support for a $10 minimum wage. However, city council voted to seek more information through its policy committee before reaffirming it’s support.
Councillors Cameron Stolz, Sherry Green and Garth Frizzell all business owners led the opposition to renewing council’s previous stance. All three said they don’t pay minimum wage in their businesses, but are concerned about the impact on other businesses in the community.
“B.C. does, in fact, have the lowest minimum wage at $8 an hour. But Ontario had a seven per cent increase, not a 25 per cent increase,” Green said. “Now is not the time to increase costs to businesses. The minimum wage is a blunt instrument to address poverty.”