In one fell swoop, the Alberta government has managed to ensure the perpetuity of both future minimum wage increases and the controversy over the minimum wage itself.
After freezing the wage last year, Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk was under mounting pressure to increase it this year.
Last year, the government argued that given the impact of the recession, an increase in the minimum wage would threaten jobs and the viability of small businesses. However, the minister suggested he'd consider an increase once the economy had recovered.
Well, advocates of a wage increase got their wish, but they are not exactly celebrating. The minimum wage is indeed going up, but in the process, two tiers of minimum wage are being created.
Alberta's minimum wage will go from $8.80 an hour to $9.40, effective Sept. 1. However, it will rise to just $9.05 for those who work as servers in licensed establishments. Eventually, there will be a permanent one-dollar discrepancy between the two tiers.
It makes the landscape more muddled, but also helps to reveal some plain truths about the minimum wage.
The province quite rightly points out that servers, for whom a large portion of their income is derived from tips, are not exactly minimum wage earners. Such workers represent a significant proportion of those earning minimum wage in Alberta. How exactly does raising their wage in any way address poverty?
Employers who do pay minimum wage might have some tough decisions to make. If they intend to absorb the cost, that could mean fewer positions, fewer hours of work and scaled-back benefits or training. Higher prices would be the other choice — bad news for low-income earners.
Here in Alberta, however, most low-skill jobs already pay above the minimum. That's what really matters — not what the minimum wage is, but how relevant it is.
It's true, for example, that Alberta will soon have Canada's lowest minimum wage. What's far more telling, though, is that only 1.4 per cent of workers in Alberta actually earn minimum wage.
When you factor in those earning tips, as well as students living at home, workers who take a second job for extra income, and those for whom their spouses are the primary household income earners, there are not many people left who represent the sort of minimum wage earner portrayed by labour groups.
A 2009 paper in the journal Canadian Public Policy pointed out that more than 80 per cent of low-wage earners are not members of poor households and that more than 75 per cent of poor households do not have a member who is a low-wage earner. The paper concluded, then, that planned increases in Ontario's minimum wage would "lead to virtually no reduction in . . . poverty."
However, groups such as the Alberta Federation of Labour want the government to go much further. The group is pushing for a so-called living wage of $12.20 per hour.
While such an hourly wage might look more attractive when viewed in isolation, the effects of such a policy would far outweigh any benefit.
In 2002, the Quebec government conducted an extensive review of the minimum wage. The report drew heavily on the work of economist Pierre Fortin, who concludes that a minimum wage falling between 45 and 50 per cent of the average income represents an increasing danger to employment.
Alberta's average hourly wage is $25.02, so the living wage puts us right in the danger category. In other words, the sort of policy that harms those it is intended to help.
For those who believe government's role is to directly assist those in poverty, there are a plethora of other ways by which to assist such individuals.
For others — a 17-year-old living at home, for example — there is great benefit in simply having a job. Not just in terms of having an income, but in the valuable work experience earned. Higher minimum wages mean fewer such jobs, and therefore, fewer such opportunities.
Given the far worse options being proposed by others, the Alberta government's muddled approach may be the least detrimental.
The Rob Breakenridge Show airs weeknights from 9-11 p.m. on AM770 CHQR. firstname.lastname@example.org
Calgary Herald, Mon Jun 6 2011
Byline: Rob Breakenridge
EDMONTON - Alberta is raising its minimum wage, but too late for students working summer jobs who will be returning to school this fall.
The general minimum wage will rise 60 cents to $9.40 per hour on Sept. 1. But workers who serve alcohol will only get a 25 cent per hour raise.
Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said the government wanted to ensure the raises are reasonable to employers and employees.
"We want to maintain the important balance between attracting people into entry-level positions and helping their employers remain competitive," he said Wednesday.
"Having a different minimum wage for liquor servers recognizes that these individuals earn a significant part of their incomes from tips."
The changes are expected to affect about 20,000 workers in Alberta.
The Alberta Federation of Labour has been calling on the government to raise the minimum to $12.20 to ensure people are earning a living wage.
"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," said Gil McGowan, president of the federation.
Alberta's new minimum wage rate is in the middle of the pack compared with other provinces and territories. Right now Alberta has the second lowest rate after British Columbia.
Global Regina, Thurs Jun 2 2011
June 2011: Join Together Alberta campaign; minimum wage; AB govt code of silence; workers at risk in AB
Join Together Alberta launches campaign to save education, health and social services
- Alberta is one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the world, and yet up to 1,200 teachers and hundreds of school support staff facing layoffs. Meanwhile, post-secondary education and social services are also facing funding cutbacks. The math just doesn't add up – and that's because Alberta's revenue system is broken. Join Together Alberta, a coalition of community groups, social-services agencies and unions has launched a campaign to reform the province's revenue system – and save our services. For AFL Release, Our Alberta Declaration, Town Hall Tour List and http://www.jointogetheralberta.ca/
AFL pushes minister to raise minimum wage
- After two years with minimum-wage levels stuck at $8:80 per hour, and a concerted AFL campaign to push for more, Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk finally announced an increase was coming. Unfortunately, he introduced a two-tier system - with liquor servers who earn tips getting a lower rate than other workers. In a 'mean-spirited' move, the minister revealed that workers would have to wait three more months for the raises to kick in. For more and "Message to Minister Lukaszuk" release
Alberta government's code of silence exposed
- Edmonton Journal writer Sheila Pratt revealed the code of silence that the government of Alberta attempts to impose on critics. She quoted AFL president Gil McGowan: "So the message has been crystal clear – toe the line and you get access. Refuse to play along and you get added to the long list of Albertans who are excluded." Want an example of how Alberta politics works? Pratt says doctors who wanted to improve health care in ways at odds with government policies were told "if you go public, you won't get anywhere." For more information and for Edmonton Journal story
Government continues to put Alberta workers at risk
- An Edmonton murder trial heard that workplace health-and-safety problems played a role in the slaying of the accused's wife, but when called upon to investigate, the Ministry of Employment and Immigration's initial response was to say it could do nothing because a complaint had not been filed. It was only after media reaction that minister Thomas Lukaszuk ordered his investigators to take action. "The government's complaints-driven process is a failure," says AFL president Gil McGowan. "The only way to keep workplaces safe is for a proactive campaign of vigorous and frequent random inspection by inspectors with real powers to punish violators. Instead, this government chooses to wait for complaints to be filed and reacts to them – literally waiting until people are hurt before taking action." For more information ...
- Support your postie – by dancing! - The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) has filed strike notice and its members may stop work as early as Thursday, June 2. They are fighting against proposed cuts in wages and benefits and for safer working conditions and an improved public postal service. Whether or not a walkout has begun, show your support for your local posties by going to a public rally/dance in Edmonton at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 3. For more Stay tuned for updates in the coming days and weeks at www.afl.org, www.cupw.ca, www.cupwedm.net and www.cupwcalgary.org
- Five reasons to support postal workers – and how:
- June 2-3: HSAA Annual General Meeting
- June 4: International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression
- June 5: World Environment Day
- June 6: Join Together Alberta Town Hall, Red Deer
- June 7: Join Together Alberta Town Hall, Medicine Hat
- June 9: Join Together Alberta Town Hall, Grande Prairie
- June 11: Edmonton Pride Parade
- June 15: Join Together Alberta Town Hall, Calgary
- June 16: Join Together Alberta Town Hall, Lethbridge
- June 20: World Refugee Day
- June 21: Join Together Alberta Town Hall, Fort McMurray
- June 21-22: AFL Executive Committee and Council Meetings
- June 23: Join Together Alberta Town Hall, Edmonton
- June 27: AFL Joint Standing Committee Meeting: Education, Human Rights & Int'l. Solidarity, Pride and Solidarity, Workers of Colour and Aboriginal Workers, Political Action
- June 28: AFL Joint Standing Committee Meeting: Environment, Health and Safety, Women, Young Workers
- July 1: Canada Day
- July 3: International Day of Co-operatives
- July 11: World Population Day
Did you know ...
- Corporate profits in Alberta are up 400 per cent
- The provincial economy is 75-per-cent larger than the national average
- The provincial government has missed its targets on collecting royalties from oil and gas companies, missing out on about $37 billion in revenue
- Corporate tax cuts are costing the Alberta government about $1 billion per year
- Alberta has no public debt
- Alberta's spending on social services is barely keeping up with population growth
- Provincial spending is declining as a share of the total economy
Minimum-wage raise welcomed, but program seriously flawed, says AFL: Further delay in implementing raises is ‘mean spirited,’ says Gil McGowan
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)
The Alberta Federation of Labour thinks the province's minimum wage is too low, and it wants Alberta Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk to do something about that before he steps down to seek the Conservative party leadership.
"Lukaszuk's first act when he became minister a year and a half ago was to freeze Alberta's minimum wage," AFL president Gil McGowan said in a news release last week. "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."
Alberta's minimum wage sits at $8.80 per hour, lower than all other Canadian provinces and territories with the exception of British Columbia's $8.75. But with B.C. planning to increase its rate to $9.50 in November, then to $10.25 per hour in May 2012, that will leave Alberta trailing the field unless the minimum wage is raised in this province.
In other provinces, the minimum wage ranges from $9 in Prince Edward Island and the Yukon to $11 in Nunavut and $10.25 in Ontario. Elsewhere on the Prairies, the minimum wage is $9.25 in Saskatchewan and $9.50 in Manitoba.
At $8.80 per hour, full-time hourly minimum-wage workers in Alberta earn $352 a week and approximately $18,304 per year, based on eight-hour days and a 260-day work year, according to the Canadian Minimum Wage website. That would put a single person earning minimum wage in Lethbridge barely above the "low-income cut-off" line of $18,147 per year, as calculated by the Canadian Council on Social Development (2006 figures).
McGowan says with an improved economy and with thousands of high school students set to join the job market for the summer, now is a good time to bump up Alberta's minimum wage.
But there are two sides to that coin. Critics of a higher minimum wage say it leads to job losses. When B.C. announced its plans to hike its minimum wage, a report from the Fraser Institute predicted the increase will result in between 9,000 and 52,000 job cuts.
A report released this year by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business titled "Minimum Wage: Reframing the Debate" noted, "Although governments have implemented minimum wage policies in hopes of reducing poverty and improving the well-being of low-income workers, the overall effectiveness of these policies is debatable."
The report went on to estimate that a 10 per cent increase in the minimum wage across all provinces "costs between 92,300 and 321,300 jobs."
That means while an increase in the minimum wage means more money in the pockets of those at the low end of the wage scale, it also means a number of workers wind up with their income reduced to zero.
Clearly, the issue creates a dilemma. On the surface, it seems a no-brainer that workers deserve a better minimum wage. But it's also true that many small businesses aren't in a position to boost their payroll budget. If payroll goes up, so do other associated costs such as payroll taxes including Canada Pension Plan, Employment Insurance and Workers' Compensation contributions, the CFIB notes in its report.
Consequently, if the minimum wage goes up, something has to give - and that often means people losing their jobs.
So the question boils down to: Is it worth it to raise the minimum wage and improve the lot of some workers while making things worse for others?
There's no easy answer.
Lethbridge Herald Opinion, Thurs May 26 2011
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
And to think this province's workers continue to endure unnecessary hardship and poverty thanks to a two-year delay in increasing the minimum wage by the Alberta government.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan notes this province's minimum wage has been stuck at $8.80 per hour since April 2009. Meanwhile, your grocery costs and the cost to fill a gas tank have gone up considerly more than wages.
What's unacceptable, says McGowan, is the government more than a year ago needlessly cancelling a scheduled increase to the minimum-wage level.
Last fall, the Alberta legislature standing committee on the economy recommended an immediate increase to $9.05 per hour. The Minister of Employment and Immigration has ignored that recommendation.
"This is inexcusable," says McGowan.
Yes it is, but will the province adopt the $9.05 minimum-wage level and restore annual increases to the minimum wage, based on the average weekly earnings index?
McGowan would like to see the government make a one-time bump to the minimum wage to $12.20 as the province's economy stabilizes, so low-income earners can make a living wage. Makes sense to have full-time workers in this province being able to earn a wage that allows them to stay out of poverty. The current minimum wage does not do that.
There must also be a system in place that guarantees regular increases to prevent the minimum level from being eroded by inflation. The current minimum wage leaves a full-time worker at an income of $4,000 per year below the low-income cutoff, otherwise known as the poverty line.
Alberta can afford to do better when you compare the minimum wages from the rest of Canada, with BC the lowest at $8 - in Australia it's $20 - Newfoundland $10, Nunavut $11, Quebec $9.50, Ontario $10.25, Saskatchewan $9.25 or Nova Scotia $9.65.
Hanna Herald, Sat Mar 26 2011
March 2011: Wisconsin protests; forklift safety; Alberta govt failing to collect billions; equality still a dream in Alberta; IAMAW 99 fight against CLAC
- From Wisconsin to Egypt, from Mexico to Canada, the rights of workers are under attack. The right of public-sector unionized workers to bargain collectively has been taken away in Wisconsin and similar moves are planned in other states south of the border. Meanwhile, the billionaire Koch brothers, who have funded this anti-union, anti middle-class campaign, have been revealed to have significant business interests in Alberta. They may be giving money to right-wing parties here! For more information ... and AFL video ... For the AFL Workers' Rights page ... To stay informed, follow us on Twitter and connect with us on Facebook.
- It's been a century since International Women's Day was launched, but Alberta women still earn, on average, only 72 cents for every dollar a man earns. Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada that does not give women and official voice to bring focus to this important issue and help to end the unfairness. The AFL is working to change this by aggressively lobbying MLAs. For more information ... and see also ...
AFL - making workplaces safer
- Campaigns by the AFL on workplace safety have resulted in positive moves by the Alberta government, which announced it would be hiring more inspectors and that it would initiate a forklift-safety blitz. However, the government's actions fell far short of what is needed to keep Alberta workers safe, so the AFL pressure continues. For more information ... and for recent release on forklift safety ...
Government pleads poverty while failing to collect billions
- The Alberta government released a budget inspired by the Wildrose Alliance, one that continued the starvation diet for Alberta's valued public services and included no plan to shore up the province's flagging revenues. Meanwhile, a coalition of unions called on the Auditor General to investigate why the government was failing to collect billions of dollars every year, by not meeting its own targets for revenue from oil and gas operations. For more information ... and for the release on the Auditor General's report ...
- Join the fight against CLAC! - IAM Local Lodge 99 is locked in a runoff battle with CLAC to represent hundreds of workers at OEM Remanufacturing in Edmonton, an engine and powertrain component remanufacturing company, serving the railway, natural gas and diesel sectors. IAM has been fighting for nearly seven years to represent these workers, but victory is in sight. The Alberta Labour Relations Board has ruled that the OEM workers have the right to choose their own union, and IAM has a short time to campaign for votes. But they need your help. For details ... Also go to www.oem99.ca
- March 22 - World Water Day
- March 26 - Friends of Medicare health-care rally at the Legislature (www. friendsofmedicare.org)
- March 31 - CUPE Alberta convention, Grande Prairie
- March 31 - Public Interest Alberta Annual Advocacy Conference
- April 2 - 27th Annual Labour Appreciation Night
- April 28-May 1 - AFL Convention
Did you know ...
- That some CLAC contracts say no union activity is allowed at the workplace during working hours "except that which is necessary for the processing of grievances and enforcement" of the collective agreement.
- That some CLAC contracts allow for only four hours' notice of layoffs, or say that no notice is required for layoffs due to equipment failure, material shortage or "other reasons."
- That some CLAC contracts stipulate that, in the event of it and the employer failing to resolve a matter of contention, "it agrees that the decisive word resides with management."
- That some CLAC contracts "will not permit or encourage any cessation of work, strike, slowdown or otherwise restrict or interfere with the employer's operation." For more information ... and go to www.oem99.ca
Case in point: a press release from the Alberta Federation of Labour, which shows that women are lagging behind in wages.
The average Albertan woman earns 72 cents for every dollar Albertan men make.
Perhaps most surprising to me is that the amount drops for women with university degrees.
Women with comparable degrees earn 67 cents for every dollar a man makes.
Female managers are still making less than male counterparts, with 86 cents to every dollar.
Alberta is also number one in lone-parent poverty rate, with 24 per cent of single-parents living in poverty compared to 16 per cent for the rest of Canada.
This is not right.
There is no excuse for these statistics.
Part of the reason may be that Alberta is the only jurisdiction without a minister for the status of women.
Clearly, this must change.
We should be promoting equality everywhere in the world, including in our own backyard.
The social networking site Twitter is now five years old. Initially, I was rather reluctant to hop aboard the Twitter train. Microblogging is too frequently used to update followers on what the user had for breakfast, or follow apparent drug-addicted celebrities accused of abusing their wives.
Yet it has been used for tremendous good, sharing information about protests in Libya and the destruction following the disaster in Japan, to name some recent examples.
From a journalist's perspective, it is another avenue to promote and connect with readers.
It's more personal than just the newspaper, but can still be used to aid traditional journalism. It's somewhere between formal and personal.
I've seen misinformation far too many times to believe it's an entirely reliable form of communication, but it is certainly a helpful supplement.
The reality is, there is a very small segment of the Twitter population producing the bulk of tweets.
However, not everyone is on Twitter.
Many businesses have yet to fully grasp the best way of using Twitter.
I won't follow a business who is spamming message about sales on office supplies, but a restaurant who posts a daily special may be worth a follow.
Where this micro-blogging site will be in the future it is hard to say. It could play a much larger role in politics, journalism and activism, or it could go the way of MySpace.
Time will tell.
Sherwood-Strathcona County News, Mon Mar 21 2011
Byline: Catherine Griwkowsky
The AFL says Alberta women continue to suffer inequality, especially in the workplace.
Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL, Nancy Furlong says on average women in the province make 72 cents for every dollar a man earns. Ironically, women with university degrees make 67% of what men with similar degrees command.
Furlong says that puts Alberta behind Canada, which is also lagging worldwide, currently sitting at the same level as Turkey and Mexico.
The AFL says giving women an institutional voice would ensure the province doesn't fall even further behind. Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada that does not have that kind of representation.
iNews880, Thurs Mar 17 2011