Advocates of a living wage hit downtown streets Tuesday to hand out $9.40 bills to raise awareness that Alberta's minimum wage, now the lowest in the country, is not enough.
"We're just trying to raise awareness on the fact that the new minimum wage is not a living wage, it's not enough for people to get by on," said Lorinda Peel, Lethbridge community mobilizer for Public Interest Alberta.
"The bills are basically just to get the word out. What we want people to do is hand them out as tips to servers or people in the serving industry that are making minimum wage, people who hopefully would speak up and speak out against it."
She said the idea is to circulate the bills around the city so more people are aware of who the minimum wage affects.
"It's not just teenagers, there's a lot of people - 17.8 per cent of people in Lethbridge are working for less than $12 an hour, and it's a huge range of people that fit into that category. You've got single mothers, people in their 40s, 50s, teenagers, students going to university and college, it affects a lot of people," Peel said, adding the ultimate goal is to get the minimum wage increased to a more livable wage of $12 an hour.
"Right now Alberta has the lowest minimum wage across Canada, so we'd like to see a review of that. Working for less than $12 an hour with the cost of living these days is just not feasible."
Shannon Phillips, policy analyst for the Alberta Federation of Labour and chair of the Womanspace Resource Centre, said having the lowest minimum wage in Canada reinforces the "growing gap between rich and poor."
"In Alberta, we are a very wealthy place, but we are not doing well in terms of the growing in equality and the growing gap between rich and poor. We've seen this play out on an international stage, we're seeing it also playing out right here at home," she said. "The fact is that we can do better here in Alberta."
She noted those working in restaurants and bars making a minimum $9.05 an hour, and expected to cover the difference with tips, are especially hit hard.
"This differential wage assumes that everyone who is working in the service industry is making some kind of wild amount of tips, which we know from the research it's not true . . . and those kinds of jobs do not come with benefits, they don't come with even EI because EI is based on your minimum wage, it's not based on tips, they don't come with any other of the job protection that higher wage earners get."
Phillips added Alberta does not have any laws regarding tips and gratuities.
"Here we have a minimum wage that is dependent on the existence of tips, but not one law around how employers deal with tips," she pointed out. "So we know from experience, and it's perfectly legal, for employers to take tips, to take tips for a tip out to other staff, or just to take them outright, and so if you have that situation then this law is just ripe for abuse."
More information on the $9.40 bills and living wage can be found at www.facebook.com/NotaLivingWage or www.pialberta.org
Lethbridge Herald, Wed Nov 2 2011
Byline: Jamie Woodford