Workers pocket a buck five more per hour

Come May 1, minimum wage workers in the territory will get a raise. The government is pushing their hourly pay up from $7.20, to $8.25.

Come May 1, minimum wage workers in the territory will get a raise.

The government is pushing their hourly pay up from $7.20, to $8.25.

And, to ensure timely hikes in the future, the wage will be reevaluated each year according to the consumer price index — the cost of a set amount of goods.

So, whenever the CPI rises so will the hourly rate.

But if the index lowers or plateaus, the minimum wage will stay the same.

The Yukon is the first jurisdiction in Canada to tie the two together.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Yukon Federation of Labour president Alex Furlong.

“But our position is that right across the country it should be $10 per hour.

“Ten dollars per hour just gets people marginally above the poverty line,” he said Monday.

“And tying it to the CPI is basically going to keep people below the poverty line.”

A low wage forces working families to make tough choices, said Furlong.

“People cannot live on $8.25 an hour. It forces them to get two or three jobs so they’re spending less time with their children and that presents further problems.

“If you have employees that are making a decent wage and can provide food for their families than you have happier employees.”

But the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce maintains the hike to $8.25 will hurt businesses enough.

“It’s unfair to the business community,” said chamber president Rick Karp Friday.

While other jurisdictions are phasing in their rate increases, the Yukon is jumping a full $1.05 at once.

And that is too much, too soon, he said.

“There are business people out there who are trying to make a living and labour costs are usually the highest costs,” said Karp.

“You’ve seen a lot of businesses close down already because of things like Wal-Mart coming in to town.

“Now we’re running closer to the edge.”

Expect higher prices from Yukon businesses trying to compensate, said Karp.

And there may be fewer jobs available to students over the summer meaning poor service in the territory’s retail shops and restaurants, he said.

“Just before the tourist season businesses will see their labour costs go up, so maybe they’ll hire less people this summer,” said Karp.

In November 2005, Yukon’s employment standards board proposed the raise, then took public input on the idea until mid-January.

Of the 90 Yukoners and groups consulted, 95 per cent supported the hike and 87 per cent supported tying future hikes to the consumer price index.

The hike brings the Yukon’s pay on par with the Northwest Territories.

Nunavut’s minimum wage is Canada’s highest at $8.50 per hour, while Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick bottom out at $6.50.

The Yukon’s minimum wage hasn’t been reevaluated since 1998, when it was upped from $6.86.

That was simply an oversight, said employment standards board vice-chair Gerry Thick.

The board members have changed in the past few years and new members were unaware it was their responsibility to reevaluate the pay, he said Monday.

And now, because of the “overwhelming” response from Yukoners, the board is considering further increases.

The wage hike will bump weekly pay from $288 to $330, and yearly salaries from $14,976 to $17,160 before taxes, based on a 40-hour week.

One in 25 Canadians earns minimum wage, or less. Almost half are under 19 and 75 per cent of those are students, according to government statistics.