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Status of Minimum-Wage Legislation in Canada

The year 1935–36 has been significant for minimum-wage legislation in Canada.

In order to implement its ratification of the International Labor Organization draft conventions on the 8-hour day, minimum wages, and the weekly day of rest, the Dominion Government in the spring session of 1935 passed minimum wage and hours legislation to be effective throughout all Canada. Prior to this time such legislation had, under the British North America Act, been the exclusive right of the Provinces, and they challenged the constitutional right of the Dominion Government to enter this field even as a means of carrying out its treaty obligations. The Dominion Government in turn insisted that it had the right to give legislative effect to obligations undertaken under the terms of an international treaty.

The British North America Act, passed in 1867, at the time of confederation, is in effect the constitution of Canada. It sets out the rights of the Provinces and the Dominion Government, in the sense that the Constitution of the United States defines the rights of the States and the Federal Government. In case of dispute arising over the rights of the Provinces and the Dominion in matters of jurisdiction under the British North America Act, the constitutional point must be decided by the Supreme Court of Canada with the right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

A Dominion election followed shortly after the minimum-wage legislation was passed, and the new government decided to refer this and other reform measures to the Supreme Court of Canada to test its constitutionality. On June 17, 1936, after 5 months of deliberation the decision of the judges revealed that three supported the authority of the Dominion Government in the field of minimum-wage legislation and three dissented from this decision. Pending the appeal decision to the Privy Council, the Provinces will continue to assume authority over minimum-wage legislation.

Eight of the nine Provinces of Canada have passed minimum-wage legislation for female employees in the following years: British Columbia and Manitoba, 1918; Saskatchewan, 1919; Alberta and Ontario. 1920; Quebec, 1919, proclaimed 1926; Nova Scotia, 1920, put into effect 1930; New Brunswick, 1930. The New Brunswick act is not in force.

British Columbia passed a Male Minimum Wage Act in 1934 (detailed report appended).

Manitoba, by statute in 1934, provided that such regulations of the Female Minimum Wage Act as may be applicable shall cover males under 18 and that no male person 18 years of age or over shall be paid less than 25 cents an hour.

Alberta and Ontario provide by means of the Industrial Standards Act that an agreement between a substantial group of employers and employees may by the action of the Minister of Labor be extended to include all employees and employers within the industry. Only the wages and hours terms of these arrangements are made binding.

In March 1936, in Ontario, such agreements included logging industry, cloak and suit industry, millinery, furniture, carpenters, plumbers, paperhangers, painters and decorators, glaziers, electricians, plasterers, tile setters, bakers, bricklayers, and stonemasons, and common laborers. The agreements are in some instances Province-wide and in others confined to limited areas.

In New Brunswick by the Forest Operation Act of 1934, hours of work and wages have been regulated in the lumbering and logging industry.

In Quebec there has been an increase of 1,179 in the number of establishments covered by the female-minimum-wage orders and a publicity press has been inaugurated to create favorable public sentiment. The Collective Labor Agreements Extension Act, 1934, provides for the legislation of the wages-and-hours terms of a collective agreement to bind all employers and employees in the industry in the district covered by the agreement. Numerous agreements bave been legalized under this legislation.


History of Minimum-Wage Legislation in British Columbia, Canada (1918–36)

In view of the steady progress maintained over a period of 18 years and of the recent venture into the field of minimum wages for men, since 1934, the interest of this conference may be aroused by the following brief summary of minimum-wage legislation in British Columbia.

The Province has great natural resources of minerals and forests, waiting to be made accessible and developed. Resultant problems might easily have engrossed the full attention of the people and government. In view of the circumstances, it is interesting to note that British Columbia many times has been a pioneer in social legislation. This is especially true in the field of minimum-wage legislation, where, since the first act was passed in 1918, the scope has been increased until at the present time it extends to a far-reaching protection both for men and women in the major industries, trades, and occupations.

One can state with assurance that the boards strove to secure as high a minimum as possible, but their judgment bas been tempered with the important principle that the orders, above all, must be practieable for the whole range of the industries covered. As a result, it has been possible to be consistent in the enforcement of orders, and general public respect for the sincerity and purpose of minimum-wage legislation has followed. The interest of the public marked the early efforts for minimum wages and has been sustained throughout.

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From 1914 to 1918 various organizations of both men and women, including labor and what is known as the disinterested public, made repeated representations to the government for minimum-wage legislation. In April 1918 the Women's Minimum Wage Act was passed. The State of Washington had similar legislation in 1913, and the precedents established there were quite closely, followed in British Columbia.

The act provided that the administration be given to a board of three members, consisting of the deputy minister of labor as chairman and two members appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in council. One of the members was to be a woman. The board was empowered to determine for girls and women both wages and conditions of labor and to issue orders assuring a wage "adequate to supply the necessary cost of living." Before setting an order the board was obliged to call a public meeting, where employers, employees, and one or more of the disinterested public must be present. Recommendations passed at such a meeting were to be issued in the form of legal orders, provided the board was agreed. Such a method might well seem irksome. It probably made it difficult to get a true expression of the opinion of employees. It did, however, serve to preserve public interest and favorable sentiment and to create a new relationship between employer and employee.

The first extension of the powers of the board allowed them to set a limit to the hours of work. Within 2 years nine orders had been written covering mercantile industry, laundry, dyeing, and dry cleaning industries, public housekeeping occupation, manufacturing industry, telegraph and telephone occupation, office occupation, personal-service Occupation, fishing industry, and fruit and vegetable industry. The rates set varied with each order; the lowest was $12.75 for a week of 48 hours in the mercantile industry, and the highest was $15.50 in the fishing industry. Apprenticeship rates were also set, varying in the amount paid and length of time according to the necessity of the trade or occupation under consideration. The rates set in these orders have been maintained even throughout the depression years, with the exception of a small concession granted to the fruit and vegetable industry.

The original minimum-wage board served for many years and this continuity of service was inestimably advantageous. After the first task of passing the orders, much was needed to make such orders an integral part of the legislation of the Province. Proper enforcement was a necessity, and yet it must be applied with tact and explanation of educational value. Legal procedure was taken only after every other attempt at settlement had been made. Both employers and employees needed to learn the value of records; in fact, they needed to be taught the fundamental values and necessity of minimum-wage legislation.




As the years followed, greater emphasis was placed on enforcement. One inspector was appointed, a greater number of cases were submitted to the court, and the names of the firms involved published in the annual report. In 1933 the board reports: "The burden of administering the act and orders has been heavy when, owing to general business conditions, a certain element in the employing class seemed to devote more energy towards evading regulations than in the direction of efficient management to comply with the law.

While our duties are laid down by the act, from which we cannot deviate, our efforts to assist employer and employee will not relax, our aim being at all times to administer the law with a tolerant understanding."

The year 1934 was a momentous one for labor legislation in British Columbia. The Female Minimum Wage Act was amended, the Male Mimimum Wage Act passed in 1929 but never given effect, was also amended, as well as the Hours of Work Act.

Provision was made to establish a board of industrial relations to administer the three acts. It is obligatory that the deputy minister of labor be chairman, the chairman of the economic council be a member, that three other members be appointed by the lieutenant governor in council, and that one of these must be a woman.

Under authority of the Male Minimum Wage Act, with the amendments of 1935, the board may, after such inquiry as it considers adequate, fix a minimum wage for all male employees of any age in any trade, industry, business, or occupation (except farm laborers) on an hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly basis. It may authorize the payment of a lesser wage than the minimum rate set to handicapped employees or apprentices, and may restrict the application of the order to a designated part or parts of the Province.

Up to July 31, 1936, orders have been made to cover logging industries, sawmill industry, tie-cutting operations, taxicab driver, manufacturing of shingle bolts, box manufacturing, barbers, mercantile industry, wood-cutting industry, shingle industry, baking industry, stationary steam engineers, elevator operators, shipbuilding industry, fruit and vegetable industry, janitors, transportation industry, bus drivers, first-aid attendants, and woodworking industry. The orders Sot out a minimum wage for experienced adult employees, and in those is.dustries where younger men are employed make provision for a zraduated scale beginning on a lower rate, based in some instances on age and in others on experience. In general, the rates in industries competing in export markets have been lower than in those catering to local requirements. Many employers have welcomed the orders of the board as a stabilizing factor in the wage structure. The employees, especially unorganized groups, have appreciated the benefits accruing from the orders, and public sentiment supports the legislation quite remarkably.


In general the Female Minimum Wage Act gives the board similar authority over woman workers, exclusive of domestic workers and fruit pickers, as that set out in the Male Minimum Wage Act. It provides that male employees engaged in work usually done by women, unless covered by an order under the Male Minimum Wage Act, shall be paid at rates set out in the wage orders for females. In addition to the nine orders of the original minimum-wage board, rates have been set for janitresses.

An accurate estimate indicated that in July 1935, 110,000 persons of both sexes came under minimum-wage orders. Although there were many contributing factors to the rapid increase in pay rolls since 1934, it is believed minimum wages have had great effect.

The board has incorporated the principle of the 48-hour week in most orders, as set out in the Hours of Work Act, allowing exemptions only for emergencies and in certain industries and occupations in which its application would be impracticable.

In some orders a higher hourly rate has been set when the working week consists of less than 40 hours and it has been provided that in any one day the part-time worker shall not be paid less than the equivalent of the wage for 4 hours. The results have indicated that this policy should be extended to all classifications marked by part-time employment.

The staff of inspectors has been increased from 2 to 16 since 1934 to provide for consistent enforcement of the comprehensive orders.

In 1935, under the Minimum Wage Acts the board of industrial relations has collected $15,660.47 for men and $27,022.65 for women. In 1936, during the first 7 months approximately $13,000 has been collected for women and $17,000 for men.

The woman workers in British Columbia have not organized in unions to any great extent, and there is a large number of male employees in the same position. The legal minimum wage and hours of work afford protection of great value to them. It can be stated that the necessity and value of the work of the board of industrial relations is at present definitely established.


Chairman PowERS. To start the discussion we shall call on the Honorable Henry Epstein, solicitor general of the State of New York.

Mr. EPSTEIN. The subject of minimum wage carries with it, in my opinion, the most essential treatment of the problem of individual liberty under the Constitution of the United States that any problem of a legal character involving social legislation may present, and that involves the concept that has been prevalent of liberty as noninterference with the individual, whether that liberty be the personal liberty of the individual or the liberty of his action as evidenced in

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