Taylor turns course on minimum wage

Yukon’s minimum wage will rise to $10.30 per hour in May, Community Services Minister Elaine Taylor indicated on Tuesday. The decision has yet to clear cabinet, said Taylor. But it’s unlikely the government wants to generate any more embarrassment over the matter...

Yukon’s minimum wage will rise to $10.30 per hour in May, Community Services Minister Elaine Taylor indicated on Tuesday.

The decision has yet to clear cabinet, said Taylor. But it’s unlikely the government wants to generate any more embarrassment over the matter, following Taylor’s big flip-flop on the issue in the past week.

The change would raise the Yukon’s minimum wage from the lowest in the country, at its current rate of $9.27 per hour, to among the highest.

A week ago, Taylor told the legislature the minimum wage would remain as it is until the employment standards board completed the review she had ordered in November.

It wasn’t publicly known at the time that the board had already completed its review, and that its recommendations had been snubbed by Taylor.

But after the board made this clear in a sharply-worded letter it released on Friday, Taylor quickly changed her tune.

“Given the board’s view on this matter, I, as minister of Community Services, will be proceeding to cabinet for approval of the recommended changes to the Yukon’s minimum wage,” Taylor wrote in a letter on Monday.

Her reversal was welcomed by Lori Lavoie, chair of the employment standards board.

But the NDP’s Kevin Barr says Taylor still has some explaining to do.

Barr charged on Monday that Taylor had “misled” the legislature last week. Speaker David Laxton ruled the comment out of order on Tuesday. “Such an accusation should not be made at all,” he said.

But it’s hard to square Taylor’s comments this week with what she told the legislature on Feb. 27, when Barr asked her when she expected the board to report its findings.

“That work is currently underway,” she replied. “And we have asked that they seek input from stakeholders in conducting that full review of the minimum wage.

“We recognize the shortfalls of Yukon’s minimum wage, and we are very much committed to adhering to the recommendations of the board.”

On Jan. 30, the board called for the minimum wage to immediately rise to $10 per hour, with a public review to be held in the fall to decide how to increase the minimum wage in the future. An additional 30 cents was to be tacked on in April to match inflation.

But “the board was advised by Minister Taylor’s staff that the recommendation would not be brought forward, as the board had not conducted a full public consultation and its review was insufficient,” stated Lavoie’s letter.

The board put off public consultations for now because “its recommendation needed to be made in a timely manner so as to address Yukon’s economic reality,” wrote Lavoie.

“The board is more than satisfied that its recommendation is an informed decision based on pertinent information, data and rationale.”

Taylor’s earlier rejection of the board’s recommendations would have been an unprecedented move, Lavoie wrote.

“To the best of the board’s historic knowledge, this was the first time that the minister had not endorsed a recommendation by the board.”

The Yukon’s minimum wage rose from $9 per hour to $9.27 per hour on April 1. But this automatic ratcheting, which happens every year to match the consumer price index, hasn’t kept up with the cost of living in the territory or elsewhere in Canada.

When the Yukon’s minimum wage was last set by the board in 2005, it was among the highest in Canada. It’s now the lowest.

Taylor conceded last week the minimum wage needs a boost. That’s why she asked for the review in November.

Following Taylor’s request, the board reviewed minimum wages across Canada and the growing cost of living in the territory since 2005.

In most Canadian jurisdictions, the minimum wage is $10 per hour.

Yukoners on average earn the second-highest weekly wages in Canada, second only to the Northwest Territories. But its minimum-wage earners lag behind.

A minimum-wage earner in the Yukon, who worked full time, would gross $360 per week or $18,700 per year. The board contrasts this with the average weekly wage for Yukoners in October 2011 of $925, and an average annual salary of $48,100.

Few workers currently earn the the minimum wage, according to business surveys.

In 2008, only 98 employees earned minimum wage, out of a total workforce of 11,848, says the board in its letter. In 2009, only 38 workers earned minimum wage, out of 10,396 employees, it says.

Nearly half of all minimum-wage workers are between the ages of 15 and 19, with more than 75 per cent attending school either part time or full time.

Women make up just less than half of the workforce, yet they represent almost two-thirds of the Yukon’s minimum-wage earners.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com

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