Today's announcement that minimum-wage levels in the province are going up has been welcomed by the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), but the labour organization has serious concerns over details of the new policy.
"This raise has to be seen in context," says McGowan, president of the AFL, which represents 145,000 workers. "This is not a great leap forward. If the government had stuck with its old policy of annual raises, workers would already be getting more than the $9.40 per hour it is setting as the new general rate. Those getting the new second-tier of $9.05 per hour are falling further behind."
He described the introduction of a two-tier system, with liquor servers earning less than other workers, as "unfair and almost impossible to administer."
"The minister says liquor servers get tips, so don't deserve the same wage as other workers," says McGowan. "But what about workers who serve liquor but don't get tips? What about workers who get tips but don't serve liquor, like servers in unlicensed restaurants, or estheticians?"
McGowan also criticized the decision to delay applying the new rates until September 1st, meaning students working summer jobs won't benefit. "We have waited more than two years for a raise. Imposing another three-month delay is simply mean-spirited."
The AFL welcomed the plan to have a system for annual increases to minimum-wage levels, but is worried that the decision to implement these annual raises will be left to the cabinet instead of being applied automatically.
"How can we trust that raises will be implemented fairly when this minister froze the minimum wage for two years in defiance of the government's stated policy?"
The AFL has called for the minimum wage to be given a one-time boost to $12.20 and then increased annually. "We believe that anyone who works full time, full year in our province should earn a wage that allows them to stay out of poverty. Neither of the two new rates is enough to do that," says McGowan. "This higher rate moves Alberta from the second lowest minimum wage in Canada to sixth place – hardly enough to warrant celebration. The lower rate is even closer to the bottom."
McGowan dismissed fears that a larger increase in minimum wage levels would lead to lost jobs. "A five-year analysis by the AFL last year showed that raises in the minimum wage led to more jobs being created in service industries, not less," says McGowan.
Contact: Gil McGowan, president, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-218-9888 (cell)