Calgary businesses vow to fight minimum wage increase
Calgary chamber says debate over $15 per hour minimum wage is not over, while the UCP rules out a rollback
Some Calgary businesses are bracing for the next boost to the province's minimum wage — an extra $1.40 per hour that will make Alberta's $15 hourly rate the highest in the country as of next month.
The Calgary Chamber of Commerce said it will not let the issue die — even though Alberta's Official Opposition, the United Conservative Party (UCP), has essentially thrown in the towel and promised not to roll back the increases if it forms government next spring.
"We have spoken to industry associations who, while not appreciating the increased minimum wage, have been clear that a wage rollback is not feasible. We agree with these job creators," wrote Christine Myatt, a spokesperson for the UCP, in an email to CBC News.
Calgary's business leaders expect the issue to be discussed during the spring 2019 campaign because the impact on companies has been quite damaging.
"They're going to do more with less," said Zoe Addington, the director of policy, research and government relations at the chamber.
Addington said that's what businesses have been doing since Alberta's NDP government started boosting the minimum wage in October 2015.
"They're going to hire less employees, they're going to cut back on hours," she said.
47 per cent increase
The chamber said when the new rate kicks in October, the wage will have increased by 47 per cent since 2015. It argues that amount is too much for many businesses and it plans to continue to raise the issue even into next year's provincial election campaign.
"The current government has indicated they are not willing to make any changes, not willing to put it on hold," she said.
"I think it is going to be an issue and I think businesses are going to raise it as an issue."
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said a survey of 1,000 medium-sized business owners in Alberta last winter showed four in ten have cut positions because of the increase to minimum wage.
Those same owners say they've also cut employee hours and put off filling vacancies.
Have higher wages wiped out jobs?
At least one economist said any evidence a higher minimum wage has led to fewer jobs may be anecdotal.
The University of Calgary's Trevor Tombe said there are other factors at play, including a less-than-robust economic recovery.
"For Alberta so far, there's no clear evidence of any overall negative employment effect yet," said Tombe, who is an assistant professor of economics.
Tombe said while employment in the services-producing sector declined in Calgary, it increased in Edmonton over the past year, so it would be difficult to argue a higher minimum wage has led to fewer jobs.
"You can't point to a province-wide policy change to explain a Calgary-specific phenomenon," he said.
And ATB Financial noted last week Albertans set a new spending record in June at bars and restaurants, with total receipts ringing in at $788 million.
However, both cities did see a drop in the number of people employed in the accommodation and food services sector — jobs that generally pay minimum wage to younger workers.
That sector shed 8,300 jobs in Calgary and 4,500 in Edmonton on a year-over-year basis from July 2017 to July 2018.
Tombe said another indication the drop in employment may not be tied to the increase in minimum wage is to look at Saskatchewan's unemployment rate among young workers aged 15-24 compared to Alberta's.
Saskatchewan's unemployment rate in July was 14.1 per cent among those workers, compared to 12.5 per cent in Alberta.
Saskatchewan's minimum wage is $10.96 per hour and is set to increase by $0.10 per hour next month.
But Tombe said you need to consider all of this data with a dose of caution since Statistics Canada's labour market survey includes a large margin of error.
Is the debate over?
While the Calgary Chamber of Commerce promises to raise the issue during next year's election campaign, it does acknowledge it may be unrealistic to expect a wage rollback.
Zoe Addington said there are other strategies government can adopt to ease the burden on business, including tax and regulatory changes.
If not, she predicts employers will continue to make their own adjustments — including reduced hours and commissions for workers and giving menial tasks to senior employees who are now filling in for workers who've been let go.
Less financial stress for workers
But people who earn minimum wage are counting the days to their next pay raise.
"That will definitely affect how much money I'll be saving throughout the year and it will have a positive impact for sure," said Patricia Walker, who works two jobs as a server and a salesperson.
"Less financial stress, if you're getting a raise that's always a bonus," she said.
"It's huge, it's huge really," added Dustin Rivait, who gets paid minimum wage at Hemporium in the Beltline. He said the extra $220 per month — before deductions — will help him make ends meet and reduce his stress as well.
Brennan Hagerty said he feels the same way. He's going to continue to work as a server into the fall when he returns to school.
"I'm pretty excited and looking forward to the difference that it can make, not just for me, but for everyone else making minimum wage," he said.
Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.
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