British Columbia will end a three-year freeze on the minimum wage with a 2-per-cent hike in September, giving the province's lowest-income earners an additional 20 cents per hour, or enough for a cup of coffee after an eight-hour shift.
Jobs Minister Shirley Bond also promised to end the ad-hoc approach that has left the minimum wage in the hands of politicians.
Starting next year, the rate will rise every September in step with the province's rate of inflation.
She conceded that the rate will not satisfy those who have called for a hike to $15 per hour from the current $10.25, but said the change should be considered as part of a broad package of programs designed to help low-income families.
"We want to protect the most vulnerable British Columbians in our province and we do want to deal with the issue of those who are struggling with their families," Ms. Bond told reporters in Victoria.
But critics denounced the plan, saying it will keep 120,000 British Columbians who work for the minimum wage – 6.4 per cent of the work force – below the poverty line.
"It's a pathetic response," said Irene Lanzinger, president of the BC Federation of Labour, which has led a campaign to raise the rate to $15 an hour.
"We need a significant and immediate increase to the minimum wage to lift people out of poverty. … At this rate, the scheme the government has put in place would get workers to $15 in 2034."
Laura Cairns, who makes the minimum wage as a labourer and warehouse worker, said the changes are an insult.
"People can't live off of $10.25 an hour," she said. "So 20 cents is not going to do anything. I'm discouraged. I'm not surprised, but I'm discouraged."
Ms. Cairns currently lives in a one-bedroom apartment with her adult daughter in New Westminster. She said her food is "basic" and she can't afford to insure her car. She'd been hoping for a minimum-wage increase to $15. "There is no such thing as a secure, permanent job any more," she said. "I'm 55. What chances do I have?"
The B.C. Liberal government has resisted calls to implement a child poverty reduction plan. Last November, the advocacy group First Call issued its annual report card, which found one in five children in British Columbia are living in poverty – higher than the national average.
Some of the group's recommendations have since been adopted by the government. Since February, the province has rolled out a string of initiatives that target low-income families. It has ended the clawback of child-support payments from single parents on welfare. Earlier this week, the province announced a new program to provide single parents on income and disability assistance with child care, dental benefits and tuition to train for in-demand jobs. As well, the government doubled the monthly income exemption for families, with children, on income assistance.
"These are absolutely the kinds of pieces that are critical to supporting people who are lower-income earners," Ms. Bond said. "The minimum wage is just one part of that series of initiatives and I really hope British Columbians will look at it in that way."
The changes to the minimum wage also provide 2-per-cent increases for home support workers, farm workers and live-in camp leaders. Those who serve liquor will see their minimum wage climb from $9 an hour to $9.20. Currently, B.C.'s minimum wage is the eighth-lowest in Canada, despite having some of the highest costs of living. Starting in September, 2016, the rates will climb in step with the consumer price index. If the rate of inflation declines, rates will be frozen.
Adrienne Montani, provincial co-ordinator at First Call B.C., called the wage increase "a drop in the bucket." She dismissed Ms. Bond's message that small businesses would suffer from a substantial minimum-wage increase as a "red herring," claiming that 46 per cent of the province's minimum-wage workers actually work for large employers.
"It's good to see some movement on this," Ms. Montani said, "but that's not going to get families out of poverty."