Not all Alberta businesses opposed to $15 minimum wage
Some businesses offer a living wage, far above the minimum wage
On his 14th birthday, James Boettcher got his first job bagging groceries at the Sunterra grocery store in his Calgary neighbourhood. His nickname was "skipper" and he would pick up extra shifts when school was closed to help his dad pay rent.
He earned $5 an hour, the minimum wage at the time.
Now 33, Boettcher makes a point of paying his full-time staff much more than minimum wage at the growing gelato company he runs.
The minimum wage is a hot topic in Alberta as it jumps again this year from $11.20 an hour to $12.20, the highest provincial rate in the country. The minimum wage will climb to $15 in 2018.
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The business community has largely condemned the Alberta government's unprecedented hikes to the wage, especially considering the current economic woes. Restaurants Canada launched an online petition in June asking the government to postpone increases until the economy improves. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business warned the policy will lead to significant job losses.
We didn't want our employees having to make difficult decisions every day around the basic necessities of daily living such as food or rent.- Lindsey Laberge, Connect First Credit Union
However, some businesses support the move, as the minimum wage becomes closer to the so-called living wage, which is calculated at $17.29 per hour in Calgary, according to the left-leaning advocacy group the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Even though the Calgary recycling company could pay some of its general labour workers less money, Goss said that doesn't mean it should. Providing a living wage helps attract better employees, he said, regardless of the state of the economy. The company has 15 employees and expects to grow to 25 next year.
If businesses do not pay their employees a living wage, then they pass on the responsibility of covering the gap to the rest of the community- Devin Goss, BluPlanet Recycling
Improving worker welfare
Connect First Credit Union introduced a policy in 2012 to pay all of its 600 employees at least a living wage, regardless of whether they work in Calgary or in a smaller community in Alberta. The credit union had to give many employees raises to meet the new policy.
"We didn't want our employees having to make difficult decisions every day around the basic necessities of daily living such as food or rent," said Lindsey Laberge, human resources director for Connect First Credit Union. "We believe it also enhances the employee's quality of their work experience because they are coming to work less stressed about having the worries of daily living."
The credit union encourages other businesses to also offer a living wage, although it understands there are financial implications, so each business is affected differently.
The majority of people who earn less than $15 an hour are adults over the age of 20, according to Alberta Labour Minister Christina Gray. Two-thirds of them are women.
2-tier minimum wage
For Boettcher, with Fiasco Gelato, he supports paying adults a living wage, but he would like to have a lower wage for teenagers, who often still live at home. That's how he structures his business. Employees supporting themselves or someone else are usually full time and earn at least the living wage. Youth are often part-time and earn between $13 and $16 an hour.
If the Alberta government goes ahead with its plans to raise the minimum wage up to $15, he wonders if teenagers will struggle to land their first job because employers may be reluctant to pay that price for someone without any work experience.
"There's still a lot of work to be done to have a better designed system," he said. "It's kind of broken in the way the government has approached the idea of if you just lift the minimum wage then it betters the system."
When Fiasco Gelato decided to pay its full-time staff a living wage, Boettcher said, they had to raise prices and find cost savings in other areas of the business to offset the added expenses. He remains a proponent of paying a living wage.
"Financially we've had to definitely change the way the business is done to accommodate it, but I wouldn't say it is rigorous. You just agree to do it and find a way to make it work."