British Columbia Male Minimum Wage Act In 1927

Subject: Standard of Living
Topic: Minimum Wage

Source: Labour Gazette
Date: September 1928 [ 1920s ]
Pages: 970-972

The text of this Act was given in the LABOUR GAZETTE for January, 1926, page 17. The report on operations during 1927 under the Act forms part of the annual report of the provincial Department of Labour. It is pointed out that when the Act was passed into law by the Legislature of British Columbia in the latter part of 1925, it was a new departure in economic legislation so far as the American continent was concerned, though many law-making authorities had passed measures affecting the wages paid to women. As such it has attracted considerable attention, not only in the province but over a very wide field outside. Under the law the power of fixing a minimum wage for various industries was conferred upon the Board of Adjustment under the Hours of Work Act. The chairman of the Board is the Deputy Minister of Labour, and the other two members are appointed by the Executive Council on recommendation of the Minister of Labour, who has been guided in his selection by the principle that they should respectively reflect the opinions of the employers and the employed in an industry. To date there have been two orders issued by the Board. The first, which became effective on November 1, 1926, established the minimum wage rate in the lumbering industry at 40 cents per hour (LABOUR GAZETTE, October, 1926, page 948). The second order, effective on April 1, 1928, established the basic rate of male employees in the restaurant and catering industry at 40 cents per hour (LABOUR GAZETTE, March, 1928, page 260).

In the working of the Lumbering Order considerable experience has now been gained, the basic rate of 40 cents per hour having proved a good working compromise between the request of labour for a higher minimum wage and that of the employers for a lower rate. It is stated that the Order has been loyally accepted by the employers as a whole, and that the process of bringing about an increased rate of pay for several thousands of the lower paid workers in the industry was accomplished with a singularly small amount of fraction. It is also pointed out that the fact that 1927 was, on the whole, a good year for lumber production in the province goes to show that the minimum wage set by the Board was not beyond the ability of the industry to pay. With the exception of a few instances of help employed in the kitchens of camps, not a single case has come to the notice of the Board where a worker found it necessary to action in court against his employer to secure the payment of the legal minimum wage.

Under subsection 2 of clause 5 of the Act, the Board have power to grant permits to authorize the payment of a lower wage to employees suffering from a handicap. In the regulations it was laid down that such permits, granted should not exceed 10 per cent of the total number of persons employed by any firm. This provision has been found to be more than ample, as not a single firm, according to the report, has ever approached the 10 per cent limit. In one industry, employing approximately 40,000 workers, only 143 permits had been granted up to the end of 1927, while the number of such permits issued during 1927 was 60, various reasons being assigned by the applicants such as debility, loss of limbs, war injuries, unfitness for heavy work, partial paralysis and advanced age. In these cases the hourly rates set have ranged from 25 to 37 1/2 cents. A few permits have been given to able-bodied men learning a trade, a low rate being set for the brief period which was considered necessary to enable them to acquire proficiency.

Inquiry is frequently made, the report states, as to the extent to which Oriental labour has been displaced in the lumbering industry by the operation of the Act. The report outlines this feature as follows:

"As was explained fully in the report for 1926, the Act makes no distinction between white and Oriental labour. The white employee, the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Hindus are equally entitled to be paid the legal minimum wage. The Board of Adjustment, however, has always taken the view that, if employers were obliged to conform to a higher standard of wages in the employment of Oriental labour, such labour would tend to become less desirable from an employer's point of view, and to a certain extent would be substituted by the employment of white help. Our early inquiries showed unmistakably that, where white and Oriental helpers were engaged in the same class of employment, the white man would usually command about a 25 per centum higher rate of pay, by reason of his greater ability to respond to an unexpected emergency. It seemed to follow that, if employers were compelled to pay their Oriental workers 40 cents an hour, they would either be willing to pay their white workers more for work of the same class, or else bring a larger number of white workers into the mills.

"That this has really happened is shown by a comparison of the figures in our statistical report with those of previous years. These are the totals supplied in returns forwarded to the Department by employers engaged in all branches of the lumbering industry in all parts of the province. A more exact comparison is possible, however, in the case of thirty-one of the largest saw-mills in the Coast area, whose books have been examined by representatives of the Department. These inspections took place in November, 1926, just after the Lumbering Order had been made operative, and again in October, 1927, and the figures given by the same employers in their, annual returns for 1925 have also been segregated for comparison. Compared with 1925, before the Lumbering Order was in effect, the total number of employees working at these thirty-one mills showed an increase of 1,352. The number of white employees at increased by 1,817, and the number of Oriental employees decreased by 465.

"In 1925 there were 55.20 per cent, of white employees and 44.80 per cent of Orientals.

"In November, 1926, there were 65.70 per cent of white employees and 34.30 per cent of Orientals.

"In October, 1927, there were 68.86 per cent of white employees and 31.14 per cent of Orientals.

"These figures show plainly that the amount of employment in the thirty-one mills has increased considerably since the Order was made, and that there has also been a marked decrease, both actually and relatively, in the employment of Orientals."

Minimum Wages for Women in British Columbia in 1927

The tenth annual report of the Minimum Wage Board of British Columbia for 1927 is incorporated in the annual report of the Department of Labour, the Minimum Wage Act being administered by a board of three members; one of whom is the Deputy Minister of Labour.

During the year the Board instituted proceedings against 12 employers for violation of the law. In some instances employees had been required to work in excess of the maximum hours prescribed by Order of the Board, while the remaining infractions pertained to non-payment of the legal wage.

Certain employees experienced tangible benefits during the year in the collection of arrears of wages due them from their employers. It is explained that while the Board does not act as a collecting agency, it often functions in an intermediary capacity to effect adjustments, which otherwise would have to be made through the channels of the Court in actions started by the employees. During the year, $2,384.17 was paid to employees in amounts ranging from $1.20 to $253, representing the difference between what they should have been paid and what they actually received. These women and girls (83 in number) were working in various occupations throughout the province, the delinquent employers being in the majority of cases proprietors of small bakeries, tea rooms, confectionery stores and beauty parlours.

A summary of the Minimum Wage Orders now in force, in addition to that affecting the fruit and vegetable industry already set forth, is as follows?

Mercantile industry, $12.75 (hourly rate, 28 9/16 cents).

Laundry, cleaning and dyeing industries, $13.50 (hourly rate, 28 1/6 cents).

Public housekeeping, $14 (hourly rate 29 1/6 cents).

Office occupations, $15 (hourly rate 31 1/4 cents).

Personal service occupation, $14.25 (hourly rate, 29 11/16 cents).

Fishing industry (Canneries), $15.50 (hourly rate, 32 7/24 cents).

Telephone and telegraph occupation, $15 (hourly rate, 31 1/4 cents).

Fruit and vegetable industry, $14.40 (hourly rate, 30 cents).

Manufacturing industry, $14 (hourly rate, 29 1/6 cents).

The payroll returns required each year from employers were sent in by 3,455 firms, being an advance of 332 over the 1926 figure. These employers reported details of wages and working hours for 17,507 female employees as against 16,070 for the previous year. This is not the gross total of women workers in British Columbia for domestic servants, fruit pickers, and farm labourers are excluded from the operation of the Act.

According to the statistics, the average weekly rate for adult and experienced workers in the Province was $17.06, representing an increase of one cent over 1926. For the group comprised of inexperienced employees, the weekly average was $10.40 as opposed to $10.03 for 1926.

Answering the oft-quoted objection to minimum wage legislation - namely, that eventually the minimum would tend to become the maximum for experienced workers - the report declares "it is illuminating to note that after a period of nine years' testing in this Province, out of 17,507 employees only 3,056, or 17.46 per cent, were reported as receiving the actual minimum for their respective classes of work." As regards the higher scales of pay, it is noted that 10,748 women and girls, or 61.39 per cent, of all those reported, were listed as being in receipt of wages in excess of the legal minimum. This leaves a balance of 3,703, or 21.15 per cent, being paid below the minimum. This last class includes young girls and inexperienced workers, for whom lower rates are set, and employees of experience whose working week was shorter than 48 hours, with a pro rata reduction in their remuneration.

The statistical tables record whether employee is married, widowed or single. From the returns, 19.06 per cent of the employees are married, 4.03 per cent are widowed and 76.91 are single.

The following tables give a statistical summary of all occupations covered by the regulations, and the labour turnover in each group according to years of continuous service.

The principal legislation affecting labour which was enacted during the recent session of the Parliament of Great Britain was the Shops (Hours of Closing) Act, 1928, received the Royal Assent on August 3. It gives effect, with modifications, to the Report of the Departmental Committee on the Shops (Early Closing) Acts, 1920 and 1921, who recommended that the principle of compulsory closing of shops should be embodied in permanent legislation, and the existing closing hours continued with certain modifications. The first four sections of the Act provide accordingly for the closing hours of shops generally, with special provisions as to those supplying confectionery and tobacco and smokers' requisites. Section 5 permits the local authority in certain circumstances to fix a latex closing hour than usual for retail trade or business carried on at an exhibition or show, subject to conditions for securing that the hours of shop assistants affected by the Order are limited. Similarly, Section 6 permits an extension of closing hours for shops at holiday resorts during the season, with a similar proviso as to the limitation of the hours of shop assistants; and further provides that shop assistants affected by the Order, if employed for "extra hours" (as defined), shall be entitled to corresponding holidays with full wages.

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