Workers seeking $15-an-hour minimum wage tell of struggles

Shauna Triplett was working two jobs just to pay her bills, at a coffee shop in the morning and as a food delivery person by night. She earned $12.28 an hour at the Starbucks at Victoria International Airport and worked for commission in the delivery job.

After eight months of the exhausting routine, which took away much of her social life, the 29-year-old was promoted to supervisor at Starbucks and is now earning $15 an hour.

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“I still struggle. I still live paycheque to paycheque. I don’t own a home, I don’t have any savings,” said Triplett, who commutes to the airport from Langford, where she pays cheaper rent.

She was one of the workers who spoke in favour of a $15-an-hour minimum wage at a public hearing on Wednesday. The independent Fair Wages Commission, set up by the B.C. government in October, spent the day hearing from employers, workers and workers’ rights organizations.

Caleb Berer, 23, makes $16 an hour as a line cook at Nourish Kitchen and Cafe on Quebec Street in Victoria.

“There’s a prevailing narrative in restaurants and small businesses that their profit margin is so slim they can’t afford to pay more,” Berer said, referring to businesses other than Nourish.

“If your business model relies on the chronic exploitation of your workers, then it’s not a viable business model.” Low wages contribute to high employee turnover, which leads to added costs for re-training, Berer said.

Kaitlyn Matulewicz, of the Retail Action Network, recommended scrapping the liquor server minimum wage of $10.10 an hour, saying it reinforces gender pay disparity.

About 81 per cent of food and beverage servers in Greater Victoria are women, the network found in a joint report with the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group.

“Serving is the only job you have where how much you make an hour depends on the type of clothes you wear, whether you’re willing to tolerate harassment and whether you’re willing to smile when someone is rude to you,” said David Huxtable, a legal advocate at Together Against Poverty Society who helps workers who are treated unfairly to file complaints to the province’s Employment Standards Branch.

Huxtable has heard from farm workers who have complained about making below minimum wage during the slow season. He has also heard from live-in care workers who earn a daily rate that, when calculated by hours worked, falls below minimum wage.

“No worker in B.C. should make less than the minimum wage,” he said.

Even a $15-an-hour minimum wage would keep many workers below the poverty line, Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt told the commission.

“Workers earning close to minimum wage aren’t able to participate fully in the local economy.”

The “living wage” for Greater Victoria — the hourly amount that two parents working full time require to support a family of four — is $20 an hour, according to the Community Social Planning Council.

“That is the wage people need to live with dignity,” Isitt said.

The minimum wage increased to $11.35 on Sept. 15, moving B.C. to third place among the provinces, behind Ontario and Alberta.

The NDP government campaigned on a promise of a $15 minimum wage by 2021, and has set up an advisory body to collect information.

The three-person commission will report next year on the best way to achieve a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Marjorie Griffin Cohen, an economist and professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University, chairs the commission. The other members are Ken Peacock, vice-president of the B.C. Business Council, and Ivan Limpright, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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This article has been edited to reflect this correction.

Employees of Nourish Kitchen and Cafe on Quebec Street in Victoria have not asked management to turn the business into a co-operative. Incorrect information was included in the story “Workers seeking $15-an-hour minimum wage tell of struggles,” published on A1 on Nov. 30.

Caleb Berer, who makes $16 an hour as a line cook at Nourish, told the Fair Wages Commission that employees had been talking about a co-operative work environment.

Also, Berer was not referring to Nourish when he told the commission that some restaurants and small businesses rely on chronic exploitation of workers as a business model.

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