Alberta government releases minimum wage report more than 3 years after it was submitted
Report recommends return to lower wage for liquor servers, but province says no changes coming
The provincial government finally released a report Friday on the effect of minimum wage increases under the previous NDP government that it has kept secret for three years.
The panel was appointed by then-labour minister Jason Copping in 2019 to look at whether the move to a $15 minimum wage in 2018 hurt the labour market, and determine whether food and liquor servers would earn more from tips if they were paid a lower hourly rate.
The Minimum Wage Expert Panel submitted its findings in February 2020. But the government didn't release the report until Friday. Last summer, the labour ministry said the report would never be released.
Last month, Joseph Marchand, the University of Alberta economics professor who chaired the committee, called on the province to release the report ahead of the election.
In an interview with CBC News, Marchand said he is happy the report is finally out.
While some advice may be a little dated, he said the majority of the report remains relevant as it examined what happened when the $15 minimum wage was implemented.
Marchand said the timing of the release is perfect as Albertans head into a provincial election where inflation and affordability will be big issues. He said wages are a part of that discussion so information in the report will help.
"It should just be there for them to say, 'this is what happened to this policy from 2015 to 2019. What can we learn?'" Marchand said. "How can that play into what should we do next with regard to this policy and related policies?"
The 67-page report recommends the province reinstate the lower minimum wage for liquor servers who earn tips, which was eliminated by the NDP government in 2016.
The report says servers would earn more per hour that way, and restaurant owners would be able to hire more staff.
To ensure servers keep the tips they earn, the panel suggests the province introduce legislation to prevent restaurants from using a pool system where tips are split among all employees.
The report looked at the staggered increase to a $15 minimum wage between 2015 and 2018 and said it led to the loss of 23,000 to 26,000 jobs, mostly in the 15 to 24 age demographic.
It also found that the wage bump increased the number of people making minimum wage — from 2.3 per cent in 2014 to 11.5 per cent of the Alberta workforce in 2018.
The panel recommends the government introduce a entry-wage rate for less experienced workers, and look at implementing a formula tied to the consumer price index for future minimum wage increases.
The formula could also take geography into account by setting wages according to local costs of living. A mandatory notice period of at least four months would help employers get ready for wage increases, the report states.
NDP rejects report
Brian Jean, the minister of jobs, economy and northern development, commended the work of the panel and encouraged people to read its report. But he said the government was not planning to act on its advice.
"Contrary to the Opposition's claims, Alberta's government has no plans to change the current minimum wage structure or introduce a separate liquor server minimum wage," Jean said in a written statement.
"My biggest takeaway from the panel report is that making large, unexpected changes to minimum wages can actually hurt employment. These changes require significant consultation and deliberation.
"Maintaining the current minimum wage gives employees and employers predictability and stability during a time of economic growth and labour shortages."
NDP labour critic Christina Gray isn't buying Jean's statement. She said the UCP will move ahead on changes if they win a second term in government in the May election.
"He's not saying he won't rule it out in the future," she said, adding that before becoming premier, Danielle Smith spoke in favour of a lower minimum wage for entry-level workers with "no skills."
Gray, who was labour minister under the previous NDP government, said she isn't surprised by the report's recommendations given who was on the panel.
She notes that other provincial governments have followed Alberta's lead in bumping their minimum wage to $15 or more.
Gray's rejection of the entire report disappointed Marchand. He said he wants people to read the information and talk about it.
"I want to hear that dialogue," he said. "To reject it wholeheartedly, I don't want to hear that dialogue. That's just ignorant. But any dialogue that comes of this, productive dialogue, I think could only be a good thing