Territory reviews minimum wage

The Yukon government will review its minimum wage, which is currently the lowest in the country.

The Yukon government will review its minimum wage, which is currently the lowest in the country.

“Yukon seeks to ensure a fair and equitable work environment for our workforce and it is important to ensure that the minimum wage in Yukon is adequate,” said Community Services Minister Elaine Taylor in a release on Thursday.

The minimum wage is currently $9 per hour. It was last set in 2005 and automatically ratchets up each year, based on the consumer price index for Whitehorse.

During the recent territorial election, the NDP Opposition called for the territory to raise the minimum wage to $10. That would put it on par with Newfoundland, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and Nova Scotia.

But raising the minimum wage could lead to layoffs down the road, said Rick Karp, president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

He concedes that “few, if any” businesses pay the current minimum wage. Most unskilled, service-sector jobs, such as slinging coffee, start at between $10.50 to $11 per hour, said Karp.

Even so, it’s become so difficult to recruit workers to hold these jobs that franchises like Tim Hortons and Canadian Tire depend on Filipino workers, sponsored through a temporary foreign worker program.

Foreign workers make more than the minimum wage. And employers must pay the cost of bringing them over.

Workers who are paid minimum wage are overwhelmingly high school students working part-time jobs, said Karp. Hiring these students is pricey for bosses, because they require more training and may lack the work ethic of more mature workers.

Raise the floor, and other low-wage workers will expect a raise too, said Karp.

That may sound good for workers. But the end result is fewer job opportunities for teenagers, said Karp.

“It defeats itself,” he said.

The NDP has called for all workers to receiving a “living wage.” But it’s a mistake to think that wage-earners at the bottom of the barrel are independently supporting families, said Karp.

“It’s not meant to be a wage to live on,” he said. “It’s a transition wage. As you gain experience and education, you rise up.”

As for the Yukon’s minimum wage currently placing last, compare Yukon’s average weekly wage to other Canadian jurisdictions, and we’re among the top of the pack, said Karp.

But that’s little comfort to anyone who does live off the minimum wage, said Kevin Barr, the NDP’s critic for Community Services.

Three-quarters of a minimum wage salary would be eaten up by the typical rental rate for an apartment in Whitehorse, he said.

“That’s reality for folks,” he said. “For the people living marginally, every little bit helps.”

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