Alberta minimum wage to increase by $1 this October

The minimum wage in Alberta is going up by $1 starting this October, with the goal of an increase to $15 an hour by 2018.

Lower rate for liquor servers will end in 2016

Lori Sigurdson, Alberta's minister of jobs, skills, training and labour, says today's plan is a 'moderate, reasonable approach' to increasing the minimum wage in Alberta. (Terry Reith/CBC)

The minimum wage in Alberta is going up by $1 starting this October, with the goal of an increase to $15 an hour by 2018. 

Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Lori Sigurdson outlined the changes on Monday morning.  

"We believe minimum wage should at least allow people to meet their basic needs," said Sigurdson. 

The changes also affect liquor servers, who will earn an additional $1.50 an hour starting in October. By 2016, they will earn the same wage as other minimum wage earners. Currently, employers in Alberta and several other provinces are allowed to pay liquor servers less than the general minimum wage, on the assumption that they get tips. 

During the election campaign, Rachel Notley pledged to raise the hourly rate from the current $10.20 to $15, which would take it from the lowest to the highest in Canada. 

Shortly after Notley's NDP won a majority in the provincial election, the government spent two days in June talking to industry representatives and labour and public interest advocacy organizations.

"I guess the best thing that you can say is that it wasn't two dollars," said Ken Kobly, president and CEO of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce, who attended Sigurdson's news conference. 

Kobly's organization received 1,600 responses to a survey about the proposed changes. While some said the increase wouldn't affect them at all, many others warned they would have to take action. 

Businesses warn

"You probably will see a reduction in employment, particularly with students," Kobly said.

"The recurring theme that we're hearing from our members is that they'll raise prices wherever they possibly can."

Kobly said the changes will also have an effect on non-profit organizations. Parents who put their children in daycare may also pay higher costs, he added. 

If poverty reduction is the goal, Kobly said, the government should consider changes to the Alberta family employment benefit so people who need help get it. 

Dadeo owner Karen Thiessen says she is fine with the $15 minimum wage, as long as it is phased in. (CBC)
Sigurdson said layoffs haven't occurred in U.S. jurisdictions that have gone to a $15 minimum wage. She downplayed concerns that Alberta businesses are expressing. 

"I really feel like that is just a bit of fear-mongering going on in the community," she said. 

Karen Thiessen, owner of Edmonton restaurant Dadeo, said she was relieved the wage will be phased in over three years. 

Thiessen said she had become accustomed to an annual $1 increase each September. When she first heard about the proposed $15 minimum, she was alarmed. 

"Fifteen dollars from $10.20 is kind of shocking to most people," she said, adding that incremental wage increases are a must. 

"I don't know how some people survive working minimum wage. I think it's a good idea, as long as it's not $15 right away."

Single parent making minimum wage 

The effect of low wages can be seen at the Edmonton Food Bank. Gloria, who only gave her first name because she is a food bank client, earns minimum wage as a cashier.

After paying the rent, there isn't much left over for her and her daughter. 

Gloria uses the food bank to make ends meet between paycheques. She supports the government's effort to increase the minimum wage. 

"I think it's a great idea, because a lot of people have to juggle two jobs just to try to make ends meet," she said. 

It's not clear how the government will phase in the increases. 

Sigurdson did not outline when the next bump in minimum wage will come, but said consultations on the increases will continue. 

She said the government is still committed to getting the minimum wage to $15 by 2018. 


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