VICTORIA — There are no plans to defer a June 1 increase in British Columbia's minimum wage because of COVID-19, says the province's labour minister.
Harry Bains said Thursday he understands the economic threat the novel coronavirus poses to businesses in B.C., but the province plans to increase the minimum wage to $14.60 per hour from $13.85.
"The minimum wage will continue to go on as it was scheduled," Bains told a news conference.
"The lowest paid workers in B.C. need help as well. They need money in their pockets so they will be able to go and invest in the local businesses who are suffering right now."
A spokesman for B.C.'s restaurant industry said while the government will not budge on the minimum wage, it has been working with restaurants on changes to liquor rules and tax policies that usually get bogged down in bureaucratic delays.
"We have suggested a delay (in the minimum wage increase) if possible," Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant of Food Services Association, said in a statement.
"As offsets, the government has been working proactively with our industry and have made many positive and quick policy changes that is benefiting the industry."
B.C. reported 12 new COVID-19 cases Thursday and three deaths, increasing the total number of deaths to 152 people.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said B.C. has now diagnosed 2,479 COVID-19 cases and of those, 2,020 people have recovered.
Bains said the provincial government's $5 billion pandemic relief plan includes numerous tax relief and payment deferment options to help businesses. The plan also includes $1.5 billion to support efforts to rebuild the provincial economy.
B.C. launched its economic restart plan this week after steady declines in COVID-19 cases saw the easing of some health restrictions to allow for the reopening of restaurants, hair salons, dental offices and other personal services.
Bains said the plan aims to restore confidence for employees, employers and customers during the pandemic.
"We want to win the confidence and trust of the public and the customers that their safety is protected," he said.
Employers and employees must follow WorkSafeBC guidelines introduced last week to ensure safe workplaces and the prevention of a second wave of the novel coronavirus, Bains said. Businesses can expect random inspections from officials who will be looking to enforce physical distancing requirements and the public posting of safety plans.
"I can't emphasize enough if we don't win the confidence of the public, the confidence of the customers who are going to come into those businesses, that business will continue to suffer," said Bains. "We don't want to be in that situation."
Henry said B.C.'s economic restart is focused on taking a slow and thoughtful approach that will see the easing of other restrictions on businesses and public spaces depending on the state of the virus.
"We know this virus hasn't left and it is circulating in our community and that's why we're doing this so cautiously and thoughtfully," she said. "There is a potential for it to start transmitting quite rapidly in our community."
Henry cited South Korea where public health restrictions were relaxed after decreases in COVID-19 cases, but virus transmissions linked to people at nightclubs have started to increase.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2020.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press