The Yukon NDP says it will increase the territory’s minimum wage to $15 an hour within its first mandate if it forms the next government.
The minimum wage in the Yukon is currently $11.07, lower than in other territories, but higher than in every province barring Alberta and Ontario.
“Raising the minimum wage will make a huge difference in the lives of low-income earners, and this added income does work to help grow our economy,” said NDP Leader Liz Hanson on Monday.
Minimum wage increases are currently tied to the consumer price index. Yukon’s minimum wage last increased from $10.86 to $11.07 per hour on April 1.
Hanson said she’d like to see the minimum wage hit $15 before the end of a five-year mandate, but said a timeline for the increase would be worked out in consultation with the business community.
Earlier this year, the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition calculated that the living wage in Whitehorse is $19.12 an hour.
Kristina Craig, co-ordinator of the coalition, said there are affordability issues around housing, transportation, food and childcare in Whitehorse, and increasing the minimum wage is one of many ways to “reduce the gap between what people are earning and what people are spending.”
Hanson said a minimum wage of $15 an hour is a step in the right direction.
“I do acknowledge that it’s not the living wage, but we have to start somewhere.” She said an NDP government would also work to increase affordable housing, which would help bring down the living wage.
But Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce president Rick Karp has reservations about the plan.
“Basically what the chamber would like to see is more consultation on that,” he said. “A $15 minimum is a 35 per cent increase over where we are now.”
Karp said the minimum wage is lower in Yukon than in the other territories because the cost of living is lower here.
He said rapid increases to the minimum wage can be a problem for small businesses, because long-term employees who have worked their way up to $15 an hour will likely feel resentful if new employees are making the same wages right off the bat. That means employers can feel pressured to increase wages across the board.
“The issue then beomes inflationary,” he said.
It’s not clear how many Yukoners would be affected by the NDP’s commitment. Karp said a survey conducted about five years ago found that just 89 out of 20,000 workers were earning minimum wage, and most of those were students living with their parents. But the more important question is how many people are making less than $15 an hour, and those numbers aren’t readily available.
Yukon statistics show that in 2015, nine per cent of the workforce was working in food service and accommodation and making an average of $463 per week. At 40 hours a week, minimum wage earners would make $443 per week.
On Tuesday, Hanson seemed ready to face concerns like Karp’s. “Every time there’s been a move to increase minimum wages, there’s always a bit of a backlash,” she said. “And then people get on with doing the job of working and creating that local economy.”
Hanson’s commitment follows similar announcements from New Democrats across the country. Alberta’s NDP government plans to increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018, while the B.C. and Ontario parties say they will do the same if elected.
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