Calgary·Audio

Alberta restaurant industry pushes to postpone minimum wage hike

If the Alberta government follows through with its intended minimum wage hike, it's going to hurt the very people it's meant to help, warns Alberta's restaurant industry association.

Move will hurt the very people it's meant to help, says industry

Mark von Schellwitz, Western Canada vice president with Restaurants Canada, says 75 percent of the association's Alberta members expect sales to continue to drop over the next six months. (CBC)

If the Alberta government follows through with its intended minimum wage hike this year, it's going to hurt the very people it's meant to help, warns Alberta's restaurant industry association.

Restaurants Canada has just launched an online campaign to petition the Notley government to delay its promise to raise the minimum wage from $11.20 to $15 by 2018.

The government's plan, introduced in 2015, to increase the minimum wage by 50 per cent over three years is just "too much, too fast," said Mark von Schellwitz, the organization's vice president for Western Canada.

"Our Alberta members are already struggling to survive and maintain employment during these really challenging economic times," he said.

"When our costs are already going up, and our revenues are declining significantly during the economic downturn, restaurateurs have no choice but to cut back hours and to lay off staff," von Schellwitz said.

"If they don't do that, then the whole business goes under, which has already been happening as you will notice in Calgary."

Minimum wage not meant to be a living wage

Von Schellwitz said the government needs to differentiate between a living wage and a minimum wage.

"They're two entirely different things. Most people earning minimum wage are not primary income earners. They're secondary income earners," he explained.

"The vast majority of them are teenagers. They're young people working to build job experience," von Schellwitz said, adding that there is a "tiny percentage" of people in the restaurant industry who work full-time at minimum wage.

According to government statistics, 59,000 Albertans earn minimum wage, with 43 percent of those working full time.

Three recommendations

The Alberta government will begin formal consultations about its plans for the minimum wage on June 6. 

Restaurants Canada has proposed three recommendations in its online campaign:

  • Postpone minimum wage increases until the economy improves
  • Retain the liquor server wage of $10.80, which is scheduled to be eliminated in October 2016
  • Introduce a youth wage, based either on industry experience or age

Restaurants Canada represents roughly 4,000 out of the 10,200 restaurants in Alberta. 

The province's restaurant industry directly employs more than 150,000 Albertans, representing nearly seven per cent of the province's work force.


With files from The Homestretch