October 1 used to be a time for minimum wage increases. This year, the UCP has set the table for reductions.
EDMONTON - October 1 has often been the day when minimum wage workers in Alberta got a raise. But that’s not going to happen this year, thanks to Jason Kenney and the UCP. In fact, employers may soon use powers granted by the recently-passed Bill 32 to actually reduce the minimum wage for many low-wage Alberta workers, says the largest worker advocacy group in the province.
“October 1 has come to represent the day that Alberta’s minimum wage would increase to keep pace with the cost of living. But this year it represents another year passing with our province’s lowest-waged workers finding themselves further behind. This is essentially a Kenney-approved wage freeze,” says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).
“What’s worse is that, over the summer, the Kenney government passed legislation that will allow employers, and even whole industries and sectors, to get around paying the minimum wage, at all,” says McGowan, referring the recently passed Bill 32. The main goal of Bill 32 was to weaken unions, but it also included a provision amending Section 74(3) of the Employment Standards Code that will allow employers, groups of employers and entire economic sectors to apply for exemptions to workplace protections guaranteed by the Code, including rules guaranteeing the minimum wage.
“The minimum wage is the lowest legal hourly wage, but apparently it’s not low enough for Jason Kenney,” says McGowan. “During the election, Kenney said his government wouldn’t cut the minimum wage. But then he cut the minimum wage for students from $15 to $13 an hour. And now he’s given employers a mechanism to get around paying the general minimum wage for adults. We don’t know when employers will start using this provision or how low they’ll go; but make no mistake, when you give employers a tool like this, many of them will use it.”
McGowan expects that the all-employer panel that Kenney struck to examine issues related to the minimum wage will soon deliver a report recommending cuts to the minimum wage for certain categories of workers, for example, liquor servers.
“Premier Kenney is infamous for striking panels with a predetermined outcome and the panel looking at liquor servers’ wages is one of those puppet panels. They’re going to recommend minimum wage cuts and those cuts are going to overwhelming impact the same groups that have already been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic: women, young people and racialized workers.”
McGowan pointed out that cuts to the minimum wage would be on top of changes made to overtime pay by Bill 32. In both cases, Bill 32 didn’t remove general protections (i.e., protections for overtime pay and minimum wage remain in the Code) but it did provide mechanisms for employers to get around those protections.
“Alberta’s frontline workers have been through the wringer since the Kenney government was elected. They’ve been hit by a pandemic, now they’re being hit by a plague of anti-worker policies from the UCP aimed at further suppressing their incomes. If there was ever any doubt, it’s now clear that the UCP is not really on the side of working Albertans.”
For the record, inflation in Alberta between October 2018 (the last time there was an increase) and now has been 2.12 per cent; so the minimum wage would need to be $15.31/hour to keep pace with the rising cost of living.
Director of Communications, AFL