Joel and Jaclynn Villanueva opened Marine Drive Primo’s Mexican Restaurant last year. (File photo)

Chamber defiant on wage increase

‘Mom and pop’ shops to be impacted the most in South Surrey/White Rock, says executive director

The executive director of the South Surrey/White Rock Chamber of Commerce says small businesses are “under siege,” and the provincial government’s announcement Thursday that it will raise minimum wage to $15.20 an hour by 2021 will only make it worse.

“I’m gobsmacked, I cannot believe it,” Cliff Annable said, adding that the wage increase should be made over a five-year period instead of three.

Annable said the “mom and pop” shops will hurt the most from the government’s decision, operations he called the “backbone of our community.”

“It’s not just minimum wage. If you pay ($15.20) for minimum wage, what do you pay the experienced staff?” he said.

Annable said he expects employer contributions for CPP and employment insurance to also increase.

“What you’re going to see in a lot of cases is probably family members working. That’s the reality. If family members work, how do you know they’re getting paid?”

He says the average person working in a small business, “in most cases” do the job to supplement their income.

Annable noted that some workers’ wages are augmented by gratuities.

“Restaurants and places get tips. It’s funny, we think it’s OK and acceptable, as a society, to tip your server,” he added.

“But, you never tip the person at the grocery store, you never tip the person at the drug store, would you? So, I don’t know why it’s become that a person doing their job, serving their food, which they get paid for. Why should they get tipped?”

Annable noted the Canadian Revenue Agency “never checks” waiting staff, and there is an underground economy in this province of people avoiding the GST.

“Big time,” Annable added.

“If you ask 10 people you probably get 12 different answers. They’re going to spend the money if they earn it, right? But how much are you now going to pay for a burger? How much are you going to pay for fish and chips?”

Minister of Labour Harry Bains said in a news release last week that putting more money in workers’ pockets means “more money to spend and support our local economy.”

“It’s good for everyone in our province,” the Surrey-Newton NDP MLA said.

White Rock Primo’s Mexican Restaurant co-owner Jaclynn Villanueva said small ‘mom and pop’ shops will “get hit the hardest” from the wage increase.

“Stores like Walmart and that, they may not have to adjust their prices too much. They can spread it out over thousands of stores,” said Villanueva, who runs the Marine Drive business with her husband Joel. “We just have to turn that cost to the customer to try and make up for it somewhere.”

Villanueva expects to pay more for ingredients, as well.

“Absolutely, because they now have to pay their workers more money. Everyone has to pay their workers more money so everyone’s prices are going to go up…. Something needs to come down.”

Villanueva said the government should focus their attention elsewhere to lower the cost of living in the area.

“How about giving back… Lower something so it makes a difference. It’s not going to make a difference if everything goes up because everyone’s wages are going up more,” she said.

She said it’s difficult being a “one-off” small business owner.

“There’s other things that affect it, everything that’s going on in White Rock, too,” she added.

While the increases are good news for those earning minimum wage, the Surrey Board of Trade says it’s too much, too quick.

“The cost of living is a major concern for our members as employees need to be able to thrive in the community. However, too big a jump may possibly lose some of them their jobs as employers try to balance their books as a result of these jumps,” board CEO Anita Huberman said in a news release.

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