Humble Dogs

That they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts. Matthew 13:15b

Minimum Wage in Alberta

“Not only is Alberta one of the best places to live, work and raise a family, it also has the highest average family income in Canada. Leading the country with an average family income of $72,500, Alberta is 12 percent higher than the next highest province.”
Alberta Awaits – Alberta Employment and Immigration mail-out 2011

One major concern in Alberta is livability – affordability and that comes down to Consumer Price Index (CPI) and wages. Alberta has the highest “Cost of Living” across Canada and Alberta enjoys the highest take home pay average in Canada and yet has the lowest minimum wage of all provinces. To me this speaks volumes to government attitude toward marginalized citizens. Another factor compounding this travesty is that Alberta has the highest divorce rate in Canada, about 27% over the Canadian average, leaving a higher percentage of single parent families many of which depend on minimum wage employment. Do the math, to match minimum wage to CPI the Alberta minimum wage needs to be set at $14.50 or higher.

Minimum Wage by Province
Alberta* $ 9.40
BC $10.25
Manitoba $10.00
New Brunswick $10.00
Newfoundland $10.00
NWT $10.00
Nova Scotia $10.15
Nunavut $11.00
Ontario $10.25
PEI $10.00
Quebec $ 9.90
Saskatchewan $ 9.50
Yukon $10.30

*- even with $.35 increase to take effect in the fall, still second lowest only to Saskatchewan, the fastest growing province.
*- The increase does not apply to servers of liquor who receive tips whose hourly rate will stay at $9.05.

Employment Standards – Minimum Wage “Generally speaking, the liquor server minimum wage rate will apply to waiters, waitresses, bartenders and other employees who as part of their jobs serve liquor directly to customers in bars, restaurants, clubs and other licensed premises. However, employees who rarely serve liquor are subject to the general minimum wage of $9.40 per hour.”
But, here’s the ambiguity: the Alberta government states in Employment Standards Guide – “Are tips wages?” “No, tips are not considered wages and are not covered by the Employment Standards Code.” So, on one side they claim because servers collect tips those monies should be counted as part of their wages and therefore the employee is not entitled to full minimum wages and then they set the labour standards as tips not being part of a persons wages. One of the factors in this is that most restaurants are automatically charging 20% gratuity to the patrons bill. How this gratuity is split between the employees means a great deal to whether or not gratuities make up enough portion of a servers wages to justify being paid at a lesser minimum wage, especially when servers generally work less than full 8 hr per day.

What do Government Ministers have to say?
“Even though cost of living has not increased significantly in the province … I think the adjustment for those living on minimum wage is important,” Human Service Minister Dave Hancock said. (When Alberta has the highest cost of living in Canada – yes adjustments to minimum wage is important)

“I don’t think we’ll ever be the highest, but it’s not right that we’re the lowest, so we’ll be looking at that,” Premier Alison Redford said in November, shortly after she was elected leader of the Progressive Conservatives. “It is important to make sure that everyone who is working is actually earning an income that allows them to not be considered part of the working poor.”

Now is the opportunity for the Premier and her government to make good on her statement. Approximately 25% of workers in Alberta are part of the working poor.

Consumer Price Index, by province, May 2012
Canada 122.1
Alta. 126.6
B.C. 118.6
Ont. 122.4
Que. 121.1
N.L. 124.5

The province of Alberta defends the low minimum wage using their estimates that fewer than 26,000 workers in Alberta are paid minimum wage, or about 1.6 per cent of the workforce. That is not proper justification. What the government does not take to account is the approximately 25% of workers who are paid less than subsistence wages, or under $15.00 hr. which is what it takes to meet the poverty line in Alberta.

Examples of Hourly Rates in Alberta
Walmart    
  Cashier: $9.56 – $12.86
  Overnight Stocker: $9.84 – $14.85
  Cake Decorator: $9.75 – $14.91
  Retail Sales Associate: $8.65 – $13.29
Home Depot    
  Sales Associate: $9.92 – $14.58
  Retail Sales Associate: $10.36 – $16.58
  Cashier: $7.97 – $13.30
Canadian Tire    
  Sales Associate: $9.58
  Warehouse Person: $10.38
  Hardware Clerk: $9.26
  Customer Service Rep: $9.62
Tim Hortons    
  Customer Service Rep: $9.37 – $11.01
  Baker: $9.87 – C$11.57
  Cashier: $9.14 – C$13.39
  Customer Service Super: $8.39 – C$18.42

Along with increasing the minimum wage, the Alberta Government needs also to take a leading role in promoting local businesses and local product. Commercial consumer outlets in Alberta are becoming more and more centralized and drawing away business from the smaller towns and centers. Within local economies each dollar spent circulates within the community about 7 times, each time paying local wages and taxes. With each dollar spent away from the local community about 40 cents in wages and 17 cents in taxes is lost within that community. This is tax monies which could support local social services which aid the less privileged. When communities are committed to maintaining amenities first it is the support to social programs which are the most effected. In many areas, in order to compensate for lost tax revenue, local taxes must increase which only exacerbates the problem.

Compounding the local tax loss is the fact that most out of town shopping is done at multi-national, foriegn owned retail outlets, selling cheaper, imported products which draw away profits which in turn lessens the monies available for social programs. One reality for lower income people is that they often don’t have the availability or resources to take advantage of lower prices at centralized shopping centers outside their local community meaning that the dollar they do have to spend does not go as far.

One method which would help level the retail field is to create a minimum wage tied to the number of employees and the percentage of local product for sale. A smaller retailer or service with 10 or less employees would be required to pay $13.50 as a minimum wage whereas a retailer with 10+ employees would be required to pay $14.00. Over 25 employees would be required to pay $14.50. This minimum wage could be lowered by providing a higher percentage of local and Canadian made goods. This wage basis would not unjustly increase prices. Multi-national retailers are already taking advantage of the higher disposable incomes of Albertans. One only has to check the online catalogs of Walmart, Canadian Tire, Home Depot etc. and find that consumer goods are priced higher in Alberta than Toronto or Vancouver. Even the price of burgers are higher in Edmonton and Calgary.

Another advantage of a decent wage is that persons on employment insurance will have more incentive to take that lower paying job. As it stands now, at minimum wage in Alberta one is often better off on EI or social assistance than finding work.

Wealthy Alberta and Saskatchewan lag on minimum wages Monday June 18, 2012

“These numbers show that Alberta is not the land of milk and honey for all Alberta workers. Workers and their families in Calgary continue to struggle in one of the most expensive cities in the country. This leaves many families taking more than one job, and struggling to find affordable quality child care,” said Julie Hrdlicka of Public Interest Alberta, which released the information compiled by Statistics Canada last week.

In Medicine Hat, a city of 60,000, about one-third of the workforce earns less than $15 an hour and most of these workers are women.

In Calgary, almost a quarter of the workforce earns less than $15 an hour. And these are not just teenagers slinging hamburgers and living at home. Eighty per cent of these workers are in their prime earning years.

Increasing Alberta’s minimum wage rate to be equal to or slightly above the Alberta Consumer Price Index will bankrupt absolutely no one, but could well be the difference between someone forever being dependent on social programs or being able to pay their bills and keep a roof over their kids’ heads. Everyone benefits!

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