Local Chamber says minimum wage increase would hurt business in the valley

The Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce is voicing its concern about Labour campaign to raise minimum wage in the province.

The Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce is voicing its concern about a recent B.C. Federation of Labour campaign to raise minimum wage in the province.

The federation began its campaign to push minimum wage up to $15 an hour two weeks ago, and last week the local Chamber of Commerce, in a press release, said the idea is simply irresponsible.

“Now that our local economy is finally showing signs of recovery from the 2008 worldwide recession, a minimum wage increase at this time would negate the work that we are doing to promote the Columbia Valley communities as a year round destination,” said local Chamber of Commerce president Amanda Robinson in the press release. “The Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce is working collaboratively with a number of partners to support the increase of visitors during times that have been marginal for business operations. If businesses can’t afford the staff to provide great service, our destination marketing efforts will be for naught.”

The chamber said many small businesses in the valley are still struggling to accommodate the most recent rise in minimum wage, from $8 an hour in May 2011 to $10.25 a hour in May 2012, and any further hikes could threaten the viability of some businesses in town.

“I know there’s a lot  of people out there who would find it difficult to make ends meet in the valley on $10.25 an hour, but I do tend to agree with the chamber’s position on this,” Invermere mayor and Gerry’s Gelati owner Gerry Taft told The Valley Echo.

“A higher minimum wage prevents the opportunity for employers to hire students, or other people who have barriers to employment or might require extra training. If minimum wage was $15 an hour, a lot of employers would only hire full-time, year-round adults.”

Taft said in some ways the minimum wage issue is a red herring, since most full-time, year-round jobs in the valley pay more than $15 an hour, and those making minimum wage here tend to be people new to the job market, such as students off school for the summer, and 100 per cent of the income they make at that wage is discretionary.

“I don’t think that in the long run, it (raising minimum wage) will necessarily be beneficial for valley. It feels good initially, but a lot of entry level jobs in the valley are in businesses such as grocery stores or restaurants, which aren’t high profit industries. So, if the increased wage cost for the business can’t come out of business profits, it means the businesses need to absorb those costs by charging more for things,” Invermere councillor and Rocky River Grill owner Justin Atterbury told The Valley Echo.

“So people are getting paid more, but then the cost of living increases across the board, and people don’t actually end up with more disposable income than before.”

“Business owners would like nothing more than to pay all their employees more, however, not at the cost of the survival of their business and an increase in minimum wage at this time would effectively put some businesses in our community out of business. An increase in minimum wage at this time would be detrimental to our local economy, one that is finally experiencing some positive signs of recovery,” said local Chamber of Commerce executive director Susan Clovechok in the press release.

The chamber said that any increase in minimum wage should come with clearly defined, measurable outcomes and be done in consultation with business, particularly small business.