A new Fair Wages Commission will report to the B.C. government early next year on the best way to achieve a $15-an-hour minimum wage, Labour Minister Harry Bains said Thursday.
Bains said the three-member panel will begin work immediately and make recommendations within 90 days of its first meeting.
“Collectively, their job will be to determine a pathway to a $15 minimum wage,” he told reporters at the B.C. legislature.
The NDP government has backed away from its campaign promise of reaching $15 by 2021, opting instead for the B.C. Green Party’s idea of establishing an independent advisory body.
Marjorie Griffin Cohen, an economist and professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University, will chair the commission, which includes Ken Peacock, vice-president of the B.C. Business Council, and Ivan Limpright, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
“I’m hoping that our work will strengthen the economy while helping to lift people out of poverty,” Griffin Cohen said.
Bains said the commission will operate with a budget of $490,000 over two years.
He said the it will consult with businesses, unions, economists and others to determine the best route to a $15 minimum wage. The wage increased to $11.35 on Sept. 15, moving B.C. to third place among the provinces, behind Ontario and Alberta.
In addition, the commission will explore the discrepancy between the minimum wage and the living wage — defined as the hourly amount that two parents, working full time, require in order to support a family of four.
Bains said the living wage differs from one region to the next.
Liberal critic Coralee Oakes said the commission’s broad mandate will increase uncertainty for small businesses.
She noted that the NDP has scrapped its promised timeline for getting to $15 an hour and is now raising the possibility of moving to a higher, living wage.
“Of course we want and we support fair wages in British Columbia, but you have to give small businesses the opportunity to prepare for that,” Oakes said.
Cowichan Valley Green MLA Sonia Furstenau said she was glad to see the NDP establish the commission, but stressed that a minimum wage is just one tool for tackling inequality and affordability issues in B.C.
“We need to talk about temporary work, precarious work, part-time work,” she said. “Minimum wage won’t solve those problems.
Furstenau acknowledged the possibility that government may need to keep the commission in place longer than two years.