The minister cited the decision as instrumental in insuring the recovery and competitiveness of small businesses as the province bounces back from the recesssion.
"It wasn't a given that minimum wage would increase, it was only in the past two years that the government introduced a reasonably fair system of making regular adjustments to minimum wage," said Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan. "Between the late 80's and late 90's there were long periods of years where minimum wage did not change at all."
McGowan said that during that period, the actual purchasing power of the minimum wage dropped by as much as 60 percent in light of inflation rates.
"We feel we've taken a huge step backward," said McGowan. "It's only recently they did what they should have done 30 years ago by introducing a system to index the minimum wage, and we're incredibly disappointed they are dropping the system barely a year after it was introduced."
The provincial government only started linking the minimum wage increases to the Alberta weekly earning index in June 2007, leading to an increase from $8.00 to $8.40 in April 2008, and to the current 8.80 in April of last year. The minimum wage in Alberta ranks sixth in the country.
"Indexing minimum wage was applauded by the vast majority of Albertans," said McGowan. "The inevitable result is that the value of the minimum wage will erode as inflation continues it's upward march."
McGowan said the real worry is the economic and social impacts the decision will have on the provinces lowest paid workers.
"Without a system for adjustments the minimum wage went from being a subsistence wage to being a real poverty wage when there were no increases," said McGowan. "Our most vulnerable workers will pay the price."
McGowan said if they had stood by the weekly indexing system, the minimum wage would have risen only 12 cents in 2010--an amount he said would have little impact on small businesses.
"I find it hard to believe such a small increase would have had any significant impact on employment," said McGowan. "I don't believe for a minute that this freeze will create jobs or maintain jobs, all it will do is pick the pockets of our vulnerable workers.
McGowan said studies indicate modest increases in minimum wage don't result in job losses during recessions, in fact, wage increases can have the opposite effect.
"Increasing the minimum wage modestly can actually create more jobs because low wage workers tend to spend all their money in local communities instead of saving or investing it, or buying luxury imported goods," said McGowan. "The wages paid to the lowest workers tends to be recycled in their community."
Whitecourt Star, Tues Mar 2 2010
Byline: Mike Constable
The province announced today its decision to keep minimum wage at $8.80 an hour throughout the year.
"They're essentially taking money out of the pockets of the most vulnerable workers in the province," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, who called the freeze "mean-spirited" and "short sighted."
He added minimum wage is barely a poverty wage in most of the province, but particularly in places like Fort McMurray where the cost of living is through the roof.
"If they think this move will save or create jobs, they're dreaming in technicolour," McGowan said. "During a recession, it's not minimum wage jobs that are being lost - it's high-paying jobs in the energy sector or the public sector that have been lost. This move won't accomplish the government's stated objective of creating jobs. It will just make it that more difficult for people on the low end of the income ladder to make ends meet."
Not so, argued Barrie Harrison, Employment and Immigration spokesman. When the minimum wage is raised and businesses only have a certain budget to work with, "they may have to layoff some of their staff in order to adhere to the law," he said.
"There are studies that have shown when you raise minimum wage, especially during tough economic conditions, it can cost jobs. We want to make sure as many Albertans as possible, including those on entry level wages, continue to keep working, and at the same time, provide small businesses with this opportunity to remain viable and competitive ... until the economic conditions strengthen."
In announcing the wage freeze, Thomas Lukaszuk, minister of Employment and Immigration, announced he will request an all-party committee review of the current policies.
Fort McMurray Today, Sat Feb 6 2010
Byline: Carol Christian
The 19-year-old clothing retailer wants to get his own place and go back to school, and the government's announcement put those dreams even further out of reach.
"Usually when minimum wage goes up, I'd get a raise," he said. "You can't be independent without a dependable wage."
Employment minister Thomas Lukaszuk said the province froze the minimum wage at $8.80 in an effort to keep people employed and small businesses competitive, but critics say the government is picking the pockets of Alberta's most vulnerable workers.
Lukaszuk said the move is necessary to help address Alberta's unemployment rate, which stands at 6.6 per cent.
"When the economy is so fragile -- especially for those entry-level workers -- the last thing I want to do is create a situation where more of them would be laid off because of an increase to the minimum wage."
He also announced plans to ask an all-party committee to review the whole concept of minimum wage.
"If there are innovative ways that will work better for low-income Albertans, then that is something I would like to adopt," he said. Possibilities include variable minimum wages based on industry, he said. The committee will begin work in the coming weeks.
Richard Truscott, Alberta director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, applauded the move, saying the current policy clearly needs to be changed.
"We were very concerned last year when they increased the minimum wage right smack in the middle of a serious recession -- the timing couldn't have been worse for small businesses," he said.
Since 2007, the minimum wage in Alberta has been tied to the province's average weekly earnings index, and has risen steadily from $8.00 in September 2007 to $8.80 in April 2009.
Edmonton Social Planning Council research director John Kolkman said the move is a "real step backward" for the province.
"Three years ago the provincial government made a good decision -- to take the politics out of the minimum wage by tying it to changes in the average monthly earnings of Albertans. That was a fair way to do it."
He said the announcement is particularly troubling, since his calculations suggest the existing policy would have put the latest increase at 1.4 per cent, boosting the hourly wage just 12 cents, to $8.92.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said unhitching minimum wage from an index means the wage will erode under the pressure of inflation, moving from a subsistence wage to a poverty wage like it did in the 1980s and 1990s.
"They're essentially picking the pockets of our most vulnerable workers, making it much more difficult for people who are already struggling to make ends meet," he said. "It's heartless, plain and simple, and if the minister thinks this freeze will create any jobs, he's dreaming in technicolour."
Alberta's minimum wage ranks sixth in Canada behind Ontario, Newfoundland, Saskatchewan, Quebec and Manitoba, all of which have hourly minimum wages over $9.00.
Half of all minimum wage earners work in the food services, accommodation and retail industries, and two in three are women. Natalie Zychniewicz embodies the statistics. The 21-year-old also works selling clothes at the mall and said she would need to make at least two or three dollars more an hour to make it on her own.
"If I wasn't living with my folks I definitely couldn't be working for minimum wage," she said. "I would definitely like to have a little bit more money to spend."
Vancouver Sun, Sun Feb 6 2010
Byline: Karen Kleiss
While the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) applauds this, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) balked at the move by Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk.
Gil McGowan, AFL executive director, said it's a "mean-spirited and heartless move" and it will hurt the lowest earners in Alberta.
Minimum wages in the country range from $8 an hour in British Columbia to $9.50 in Ontario.
Alberta's minimum wage, which is tied to the province's weekly earnings index, increased from $8.40 to $8.80 an hour on April 1, 2009.
McGowan said the freeze will make it more difficult for those at the bottom of the income ladder.
"I would describe this move as heartless and completely unnecessary," said McGowan.
Lukaszuk said the decision will both protect jobs during the recovery from recession and support Alberta's economy.
"In addition to freezing the minimum wage, I will also request an all-party committee review of our current policy, ensuring that our approach is what's best for Albertans," said the minister.
The province said the move won't only ensure Albertans in entry-level positions have jobs, but it will also keep small businesses viable and competitive through global economic recovery.
Richard Truscott, Alberta director of CFIB, said the timing of the freeze is perfect because the global economy is starting to recover but it's still fragile.
"Definitely the small business sector's confidence is growing, but it's still shaky," said Truscott.
"Increasing the minimum wage at this time may have a big impact on the optimism and confidence in small businesses," he said.
McGowan argued that most minimum-wage earners are employed by large restaurant chains and not necessarily by small businesses.
"The province is handing more money to fast-food restaurants and coffee shops by freezing the minimum wage," said McGowan.
The province will announce later details of the minimum wage policy review.
Since 2007, the rate has been upped every year but before that, changes to the wage were irregular.
Calgary Sun, Fri Feb 5 2010
Byline: Renato Gandia
Join Together Alberta - a coalition campaign to save Alberta's public services.
- The Join Together Alberta campaign was conceived and launched jointly by a number of Alberta unions and union groups in cooperation with various community and advocacy groups. All of the participating organizations share deep concerns about the impacts that deep cuts to public services will have on individuals, families and communities within Alberta. They also share a belief that best way forward for Alberta is to embrace a high-road approach to our future - one that focuses on smart investments in people, communities and the economy - as opposed to a low-road approach -one that focuses on cutting spending and leaving individuals, families and communities to increasingly fend for themselves. For more information - http://www.jointogetheralberta.ca
Old Dutch Lockout Ends Following Landmark Labour Board Ruling
- In a landmark ruling, the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) has determined that Alberta labour legislation interferes with the constitutional rights of workers and has suspended the months-long lockout of UFCW Canada Local 401 members by Old Dutch Foods. Click here for the full text of the decision.
Year-end labour force numbers show Albertans are still hurting even as province starts to emerge from recession
- Year-end employment figures released by Statistics Canada paint a picture of an Alberta labour force that is still hurting even as the provincial economy begins to show signs of emerging from the recession. "The recovery seems to be coming, but Albertans are still hurting and the provincial labour market is still very fragile," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. For more information ...
Next Up Alberta - Youth Leadership Program 2010
- Next Up was created by a group of young people between 18 and 32 years old who wanted to help emerging leaders develop new and better skills, smarts and ideas. The program is intense. Over five months, we'll dive into a number of topics and disciplines, combining theory, practice, deep thinking, and hard skills. We'll look at some of the most pressing Canadian foreign and domestic policy issues, and where "progressive" thinking is at on how to solve them. We'll look at how change is made in society. And we'll meet some of the most innovative change-makers in Alberta - from the non-profit, business and public sectors - who are working for a better world. For more details ...
Join Together Alberta
- Register for one of the 22 town halls nearest you!
- Albertans from communities are coming together over the next several weeks to send Premier Stelmach the message that our public services are the fabric that keeps our local communities together.
- Click here to find the complete schedule of town hall meetings and to register (http://www.jointogetheralberta.org/events) and then sent the link along to your coworkers, friends and family.
- Click here to sign the petition (http://www.jointogetheralberta.org/content/sign-petition) to save our public services.
- Go here to write a letter to Premier Stelmach and your MLA (http://www.jointogetheralberta.org/write-letter).
- Join our Facebook group (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?v=app_2373072738&gid=247817444550#/group.php?gid=247817444550) or follow us on Twitter (www.twitter.com/JoinTogetherAB).
Re-making Alberta: Recession alternatives for an Alberta that works
February 12th and 13th, 2010
Lister Conference Centre, 86 Avenue and 116 Street
University of Alberta, Edmonton
Registration fee: $50
Alberta is taking the low road in this recession with budget cuts and public service cuts. The AFL and the Parkland Institute are presenting this conference that will explore questions such as: Is there a high road out of this recession? What can we learn from other countries and provinces? What will the impacts of the cuts be? What does the high road look like for Alberta? For the brochure ...
Did you know...
That if Alberta replaced its regressive flat tax (10% across the board) with the progressive taxation system that was in place before 2001, that the province would have taken in $5.5 billion more in 2006 alone.
The provincial government's most recent deficit projections are for a $4.3-billion deficit this year leading the Premier to warn that severe cuts are once again on their way.
The minimum wage in Alberta is going up on April 1 from $8 per hour to $8.40. The Alberta government has put in place a system where the minimum wage is tied to the "average weekly wage index" from Statistics Canada. Every April 1 the minimum wage will automatically increase to keep pace with other increasing costs and wages in the province.
"Alberta's experiencing a time of great prosperity," said Premier Ed Stelmach in a press release. "Wages have increased about five per cent and we're ensuring minimum wage earners are sharing in this growth."
About 70,000 Albertans or 3.5 per cent of the province's working population are paid at minimum wage. Most Albertans make much more than minimum, with the province's median pay at $20 per hour according to Alberta Employment and Immigration spokesperson Stephanie Francis.
Most minimum wage earners are employed by the food service and hospitality industries according to the Alberta government. In 2006 nearly half of such earners were 15-19 years old.
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) criticizes the wage increase as being too low, recommending a minimum wage of at least $10 per hour. In a press release the AFL said a higher minimum wage would have a "ripple-through effect" that would raise wages throughout the province.
Government spokesperson Francis said the amount of increase was "about keeping the balance between minimum wage earners and employers."
The increase will briefly bring Alberta's minimum wage to the fifth highest in Canada, third among the provinces. Ontario will have the highest minimum wage for adults, which will go up to $8.75 on Mar. 31. That will edge out Nunavut at $8.50. But minors and liquor servers have lower minimums in Ontario.
Other provinces and territories of note:
- Yukon will go up to $8.58 on Apr. 1. Yukon increases its minimum every year to keep pace with the consumer price index from Statistics Canada. This is a different index than what Alberta uses.
- Manitoba will raise its minimum to $8.50 on Apr. 1.
- New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador have equal or lower minimum wages, but both provinces are set to increase them this spring.
- Saskatchewan will raise its minimum to $8.60 on May 1.
- The lowest minimum wage in Canada will be in Prince Edward Island at $7.50.
- The NWT's minimum wage will remain steady at $8.25.
Barb Wyness of the Union of Northern Workers said they have proposed a $10 per hour minimum wage in the NWT, to be recalculated annually to keep pace with StatsCan's standard of living index.
Slave River Journal, Thurs Mar 27 2008
Anyone working for minimum wage will be glad to know they're getting a raise, but employers might find their payroll getting tighter as they have to raise wages across the board.
Although the Alberta government's decision to introduce an automatic increase to the minimum wage in the province was well received by the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), the group's president, Gil McGowan, said the minimum wage is still too low.
As of yesterday, the minimum wage rose to $8.40 from $8.00.
"Is it mathematically possible to earn a living in Alberta on that wage?" asked David Swan, member of the Vulcan and District Chamber of Commerce. "If you can't live on it, it's moot."
According to McGowan and the AFL, the minimum wage should be $10 an hour.
"Let's start with a realistic and fair minimum wage -- and then take it from there," he said.
But Alberta boasts one of the highest minimum wages in the country, said Scott Mitchell, owner of Market Street Foods.
"Honestly, I think it's getting a little ridiculous," said William Pilon, manager of the A&W, about the hike. "I have no problem with it, I understand the need with the growing economy, but once a year is enough."
The minimum wage had already increased by one dollar to $8 an hour on Sept. 1, 2007, and re-adjusting wages barely six months later is a pain, Pilon said.
"You're not just adapting for new staff, but for all existing staff," he said.
Just because someone's hourly wage is already more than the minimum wage, doesn't mean they wouldn't also get a raise.
After all, if someone's worked for a long period of time and a new employee comes in earning more, problems can arise.
"We're having a hard enough time finding staff as it is," Pilon told the Advocate last week, at which point he'd received one application in two weeks for a position he'd advertised.
Out of an ideal staff of about 25, Pilon's roster sits at 14, having recently lost some staff, he said.
A&W has been working on a program to bring in foreign workers, which is something Pilon has been looking into.
Being so short of staff puts him in the position where he doesn't have much in the way of other options, even if he would rather hire within the community, he said.
Some employees aren't that impressed by the minimum wage hike; either.
"Basically, nothing is changing, it's just the numbers going up -- but it's a nice thought," said Jayleen Kolody, who's worked at A&W since June.
With the base prices of living constantly rising in Alberta, such as rent, food and gas, the increase to the minimum wage will have a negligible effect, she said.
Agreeing that people should make more with the growing economy and increasing living costs, Pilon said it hurts the employer in the long run.
"It'll probably end up affecting the small business person to the point where they can't employ as many younger staff," said Mitchell.
Vulcan Advocate, Wed Apr 2 2008
Byline: Simon Ducatel