Minmum wage should be raised now, before thousands of high school students get summer jobs, says McGowan
EDMONTON – Before he steps down to pursue the leadership of the PC Party, Employment and Immigration Minister Lukaszuk should make good on the promise he made to raise the minimum wage, says the Alberta Federation of Labour.
“Lukaszuk’s first act when he became minister a year and a half ago was to freeze Alberta’s minimum wage,” say AFL president Gil McGowan. “At the time, he said he would review the practice of automatically indexing the minimum wage and only consider an increase when the provincial economy returned to health. Well, the review is done and the recession is over. It’s time for the Minister to live up to the promise he made to Alberta’s poorest workers.”
At $8.80 per hour Alberta, Canada’s wealthiest province, has the second lowest minimum wage in the country – after B.C. But B.C. premier Christy Clark recently announced that the minimum wage in B.C. will be increased to $10.25 per hour in May 2012.
McGowan says the time is right for Lukaszuk to increase Alberta’s minimum wage because the K-12 school year is almost over.
“Thousands of high school students will soon be applying for jobs and many of those jobs will pay minimum wage or close to it. Before Lukaszuk himself considers applying for a new job, that of premier, he should raise the minimum wage and help out those students,” says McGowan.
McGowan says both of Lukaszuk’s conditions for increasing the minimum wage have been met.
First, the Alberta economy has clearly returned to good health. Investment is up and unemployment is down. Retail sales are up nearly 6 per cent from last year. And the province’s average weekly earnings rose by nearly 7 per cent and are the highest in the country.
“Clearly, we can afford to give Albertans earning minimum wage a raise,” says McGowan.
Lukaszuk’s second condition was that a review be conducted of Alberta’s system for indexing and increasing the minimum wage. This was done last summer and fall by a special all-party committee of the Legislature. In December, the committee recommended that the minimum wage immediately be increased to $9.05 and that a system for regular cost-of-living increases be implemented.
“Despite the committee’s recommendations, the silence from the Minister on this issue has been deafening,” says McGowan.
Other jobs that will be left undone if Lukaszuk resigns include: making change to improve workplace health and safety; extending basic rights to agricultural workers; and fixing the Temporary Foreign Worker program (which Lukaszuk has admitted himself is dysfunctional).
“If Lukaszuk wants to be taken seriously as a leadership candidate, you’d think he’d want to finish at least some of this work before giving up the reins at the Employment and Immigration department,” says McGowan. “Increasing the minimum wage would be a good place to start and an important legacy to leave.”
The AFL is Alberta’s largest labour organization, representing 145,000 unionized Alberta workers.
Media Contact: Gil McGowan, president, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-218-9888