The BC NDP’s minimum wage agenda is continuing to reshape portions of the British Columbian workforce, with another class of workers receiving a boost to their wages.
Based on recommendations from the Fair Wages Commission (FWC), liquor servers, piece-rate farm workers, resident caretakers, live-in camp leaders, and live-in home-support workers will all receive a minimum wage hike.
The largest group of workers impacted are the liquor servers, defined as any worker whose primary duties are to serve food or drink, or both, and, as a regular part of their employment, serves liquor directly to customers or guests under a liquor license.
They will see their separate minimum wage abolished by 2021.
Overall, 1.9% of British Columbia’s labour force qualify as liquor servers, and roughly 4 in 5 (81.8%) are women.
Liquor servers have had a separate minimum wage since 2011, and as it stands, currently earn $1.25 per hour less than the general minimum wage.
The reasoning for the lower wage is based on North American tipping culture, where gratuities are a regular part of receiving service at a restaurant or bar. It is argued that after tips, most liquor servers end up making more than minimum wage.
Tips Potentially Perpetuating Sexual Harassment
Since four in five servers are female, however, there could be further implications from a reliance on tipping.
The FWC suggests that a reliance on tips could be perpetuating sexual harassment to liquor servers.
Given that tips are expected to substitute for a portion of their wage, it can make servers more vulnerable to harassing behaviour. The sexualization of the industry, including dress codes and hiring practices, appear to be reinforced by relying on tips for wages.
Of course, employers have their own reasoning for their interests in keeping a minimum wage separate.
Number one is the restaurant industry is highly competitive, with low margins and a high amount of labour. It’s not uncommon to hear of restaurants failing to make it through their first six months.
They also argue that the North American tipping culture affects service in a good way, and offers a natural incentive to find the right people who are customer service oriented.
Another aspect is the type of workers liquor service can attract; many servers are young, first-time employees and do not use their income to support a family.
Tip Payouts may be Part of the Problem
Employees may also not mind the $1.25 wage difference because tips generally put them well above the general minimum wage.
Tip payouts, however, have their own issues.
Since tips are voluntary payment from the customer, they are unregulated, and some employers use a “tipping out” system, where a pool is gathered and redistributed among employees.
A lack of transparency on tipping practices combined with no regulations or guidelines means employers can take advantage of tips that escape the regular wage system.
Overall, it appears servers’ reliance on tips will decrease in the coming four years.
Based on recommendations from the Fair Wage Commission, liquor servers will receive incremental minimum wage increases over the next four years every June 1st, matching the general minimum wage by 2021.