EDMONTON - Starting October 1, Albertans earning the minimum wage will see a slight boost in their earnings - but the increase offers little cause for real celebration, says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.
"Alberta may no longer have the lowest minimum wage in the country," says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "But it's still not nearly enough to make ends meet. The sad truth is that our minimum wage is still a poverty wage."
Alberta's minimum wage has been increased in three stage over the past year - from $5.00 to $5.40 per hour on October 1, 1998; from $5.40 to $5.65 on April 1, 1999; and finally from $5.65 to $5.90 on October 1, 1999.
As a result of the changes, Alberta has moved ahead of the four Maritime Provinces in terms of provincial minimum wage levels. But Alberta still lags far behind B.C., Quebec and Ontario where the minimum wages are $7.15, $6.90 and $6.85 respectively.
Cormack points out that Alberta's new minimum wage is still not high enough to keep low-wage workers out of poverty. According to Statistics Canada, an individual living in Edmonton or Calgary would have to earn about $17,500 per year in order to live above the poverty line.
"Even with the latest increase, minimum wage earners working full-time and year round would only earn about 70 per cent of the amount necessary to stay out of poverty," says Cormack. "There is something seriously wrong with this picture. The minimum wage should be high enough to allow people to live with dignity."
Another major problem with the Klein government's approach to the minimum wage is that they have failed to put in place any mechanisms to adjust the wage for inflation, says Cormack.
She points out that between 1977 and 1997; the real value of Alberta's minimum wage dropped by more than 40 per cent. This was the direct result of the government's refusal to introduce regular increases that compensated for inflation, she says.
"One time increases to the minimum wage will not solve the problem," says Cormack. "What we really need is a system that makes regular adjustments for inflation. This is crucial because a wage that keeps people out of poverty today may not be enough to keep them out of poverty in the future. If the government doesn't recognize this problem and institute some kind of system for regular adjustments, then we're going to be right back where we started five or ten years from now."
For more information call:
Audery Cormack, AFL President: 483-3021 (wk) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (home)