Bank of Montreal plans to raise its minimum wage for U.S. branch and contact-center employees to US$18 an hour as companies face heightened competition for workers in a tight labor market.

The 20 per cent increase affects BMO Harris Bank’s full- and part-time workers, including new hires and current workers who make less than the new minimum, Toronto-based Bank of Montreal said in a statement Tuesday. The change is effective Oct. 17.

Bank of Montreal is looking to reward staff members in a way that’s competitive with the market and reinforces their value to the company, Ernie Johannson, head of North American personal banking, said in the statement. BMO Harris, the American personal-banking franchise of Canada’s fourth-largest lender, has more than 500 branches throughout the U.S.

“This higher hourly base pay with an already competitive incentive bonus program ensures that BMO’s team remains the best in banking with top talent that can make financial progress alongside our customers and our business,” she said.

Bank of Montreal shares climbed 0.5 per cent at 9:36 a.m. in Toronto. They’ve gained 32 per cent this year, compared with a 22 per cent increase for the S&P/TSX Commercial Banks Index.