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Quebec's minimum wage is going up by 50 cents an hour next May – the biggest increase in the province's rate since 1975.


The province's labour minister, David Whissell, announced Thursday that Quebec's 250,000 or so workers earning minimum wage will be paid $8.50 an hour as of May 1, 2008.


The increase, which is more than twice the rate of inflation, will work out to an additional $1,000 a year in gross income.


The province hopes it will ease financial stress on the working poor.


"It's a big increase, but we have to be sure people at this level will have enough money to live," Whissell said in Quebec city. "And, it's an incentive to return to work, or to stay at work."


Women and young people under the age of 24 make up a large proportion of minimum wage earners in Quebec.


Restaurant workers and other people who get tips will also get a 50-cent hourly raise, to $7.75 an hour.


And some garment workers will see their minimum wage raised from $8.25 an hour to $8.50.


About six per cent of Quebec workers earn minimum wage, most common in retail, hotel and restaurant jobs.


The raise brings Quebec's minimum wage in line with the Canadian average.


Poverty groups in the province want Quebec to raise the minimum wage even more, to match Ontario's pledge to bring the hourly salary up to $10 an hour by 2010.


A minimum wage earner should be paid enough to allow them to earn what Canada considers to be the poverty line cutoff, said Esther Paquet, a spokeswoman for "Au bas de l'échelle," a Quebec poverty rights group.


At the current minimum wage, a person working 40 hours a week earns an annual salary of $16,640. The poverty line for a single person in Canada in 2006 was $21,202.


(Courtesy of CBC News)

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