Minimum wage increase to hurt local employment

Paying $10.25 an hour is too much for new employees, some Cowichan Lake business owners are saying.

  • Mar. 28, 2011 9:00 a.m.
Lake Cowichan A&W employee Lynda Hubert happily serves up some hot coffee earlier this week. Although Hubert managed to find employment in town

Lake Cowichan A&W employee Lynda Hubert happily serves up some hot coffee earlier this week. Although Hubert managed to find employment in town

Paying $10.25 an hour is too much for new employees, some Cowichan Lake business owners are saying.

The comments come in response to premier Christy Clark’s recent announcement that minimum wage will increase from $8 to $8.75 on May 1, to $9.50 November 1, and to $10.25 in May, 2012.

The $6 training wage has also been repealed, and a minimum wage for liquor servers will be raised to $9 by May of 2012.

“I’m sure it’ll affect our area,” Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce president Jim Humphrey said. “I would have liked a little more warning. I didn’t know how much it would be.”

In addition to holding the chamber’s presidential position, Humphrey owns and operates the Beaver Lake Resort Campground. With this minimum wage increase, he said that he’ll be unable to hire as many summer students.

“It’s pretty hard for us to hire less,” he said. “We already hire enough to service the customers we have every year.”

As a business owner, Humphrey said that he’ll just have to work longer hours, and hope the HST will have a weakened effect on tourism, this summer.

Cow Cafe co-owner Dave Sharrow has a similar sentiment about the raising of minimum wage, and the elimination of the training wage.

“It’s tough for us, because it means we won’t be able to hire anyone that isn’t trained,” he said. “It’ll prevent us from hiring high school students.”

The Cow Cafe has a long history of hiring 14-year-olds at the training wage. By the time they finish high school, they’re well-trained and have a decent wage, Sharrow said.

“That’s impossible at this stage,” he said. “It’s going to be impossible for any young person to get into this particular industry in this town.”

With fewer employees, Sharrow said that himself and co-owner Matt Heyne will have to work longer hours than they already do. To now hire someone new to the industry, at $10.25, would be painful, Sharrow said, as they could very well be making a better hourly wage than himself.

“As an owner, it’s tough to swallow,” he said.

“There is nowhere in any business that someone can get a pay increase of 28 per cent,” local A&W Restaurant owner John Wolters said.

With some long-term employees already earning $10.25 or more, he said that new employees coming in and earning the same amount will be hard for his existing employees to swallow.

“There’s no way, if I were to up everyone’s pay,” he said, estimating the additional annual payroll cost to his business at about $100,000. “No business can afford that!”

Like most other business owners contacted for this story, Wolters said that he’ll regretfully have to cut back on the number of people he’s able to employ.

“I think Christy Clark did this as a political move,” he said. “There’s enough restaurants going broke in the province as-is.”

Over in Honemoon Bay, the Coffee Mill Cafe will also see fewer summer employees hired.

“In our industry we’re getting the short end of the stick,” owner Sue Restall said.

That said, Restall recognizes the difficulty some people have living off of minimum wage.

“People need to have a livable allowance,” she said. This still won’t do it, but it’ll help.”

Her main beef with the recent provincial announcements is with the elimination of the training wage.

“There should absolutely be the training wages,” she said. The training wage provides employers time to see if employees are worth keeping on board, allowing them some time to test them out before making a stronger decision.

Over at Lake Cowichan’s Country Grocer, owner Jo-Anne Pimlott said that things are very different than with the restaurant industry.

“It’s not going to amount to a lot to us,” she said, of the increase, adding that their employees already make enough that the increase will not make much of a difference, overall.

“It had to happen, when you’re the lowest one around,” she said, of various other provinces’ higher minimum wages.

Last August, the Town of Lake Cowichan’s elected officials sent a letter to then-premier Gordon Campbell, encouraging him to raise minimum wage to $10 an hour. In addition to that, mirroring the concerns of local restaurant owners, they requested that a lower wage of $8 an hour be kept for people 17 and under.

“I understand both sides of it,” mayor Ross Forrest said last week. “It’s tough for people to pay it, but it’s also tough for people to live with it.”

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