$15 minimum wage worries retailers, restaurants, small business

Small business, restaurant and retail industry groups met with Alberta’s new NDP labour minister Thursday to fight against a proposed $15 minimum wage.
Lori Sigurdson, minister of jobs, skills, training and labour, is meeting with industry representatives and workers about the $15 minimum wage. (CBC )

Small business, restaurant and retail industry groups met with Alberta's new NDP labour minister Thursday to fight against a proposed $15 minimum wage.

Premier Rachel Notley has said she plans to raise the minimum wage from $10.20 to $15 by 2018. Industry representatives warn the increase could have unintended effects on the economy.

Richard Truscott, vice-president, Alberta and British Columbia, for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said a wage increase could cut into the slim profit margins earned by small businesses.

"When you add 20 to 30 per cent in terms of overall wage costs, increase that minimum wage by almost 50 per cent for those service-based businesses, it's very hard to eat those costs," he said.

The Retail Council of Canada would like the government to assess the impact on the economy each time the wage goes up.

Prairie director Lanny McInnes said about two per cent of sales clerks are paid minimum wage. His group is worried about the effect of an increase on all wages.

"That is going to have a ratcheting-up effect on the entire salary structure for retailers," he said.

The restaurant industry is pushing for Alberta to follow other provinces and have a lower minimum wage for people who work in bars and restaurants, because they earn tips.

Mark von Schellwitz, western Canada vice-president of Restaurants Canada, suggested servers would prefer to keep it that way.

"They'd much rather have their hours and the ability to earn their gratuities, than have a wage increase and fewer hours," he said.

Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson said the government is committed to the minimum wage increase.

Business groups say young people could feel the impact if the changes lead to fewer entry level jobs. Sigurdson acknowledged that could be an issue.

"Youth tend to be more vulnerable," she said. "We have a higher unemployment rate, so that's something we are looking at, and we appreciated their feedback about that."

On Friday, Sigurdson will hear the other side of the story. She will meet with workers and labour groups to get their views on the wage increase.


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