The Epoch Times
Civic groups are taking the opportunity to call for an increased minimum wage after Alberta became the province with the lowest minimum wage in the country on Tuesday.
British Columbia’s minimum wage increased to $9.50 per hour on Nov.1, knocking Alberta to the bottom of the wage rankings at $9.40 per hour.
Public Interest Alberta, a non-profit organization focused on education and advocacy on public interest issues, campaigned by handing out paper “living wage bills” to the public in Edmonton, Calgary, and Lethbridge.
The faux currency featured the image of Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, the former minister of employment and immigration, and slogans such as “$9.40 Not a Living Wage!” and “Take Action for a Living Wage!”
Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, says the bills were meant to raise public awareness about Alberta’s new inglorious distinction, and can be left on tables as part of a “tip” for servers who many not realize they make less than minimum wage.
“A lot of the people we talked to were unaware that we have the lowest provincial minimum wage. ... Some servers had heard that they were getting paid less than the minimum wage, and they were outraged about that.”
When Lukaszuk was appointed minister of employment and immigration in 2010, he froze the minimum wage and ended the policy of tying Alberta’s minimum wage to the previous year’s Average Weekly Earnings. He claimed the measures were needed in order to protect jobs and support the economy.
Alberta’s minimum wage increased from $8.80 an hour to $9.40 on Sept. 1. However, hospitality staff who serve alcohol receive less—$9.05 per hour—to account for the tips or gratuities they receive.
Advantages to higher wages
Moore-Kilgannon says there are economic advantages to increasing the minimum wage that the former employment and immigration minister may not have taken into account.
He points out that staff loyalty increases and turnover decreases when employees get a higher wage, saving training costs. They also tend to spend their money in their own communities, benefiting the local economy.
“A really critical message here is that we don’t just look at these minimum wage policies as they affect individuals, we have to look at how they affect our overall communities.”
He says there is a strong correlation between poverty and other social costs, such as health care expenditure and crime rates, that decline when people are freed from poverty.
A recent HungerCount 2011 survey showed that the use of food banks in Canada has not decreased since the recession has eased. In fact, food bank use is 26 percent higher than it was in 2008.
Currently, 18 percent of Canadians—nearly one in five households—who use the food bank are receiving income from employment.
The survey also revealed that use of Alberta’s food banks has increased by a staggering 75 percent compared to pre-recession numbers.
Since Alberta is one of the wealthiest provinces in Canada, Moore-Kilgannon says it is “embarrassing” to have the lowest minimum wage.
“If someone’s working full time they shouldn’t be living in poverty—we need to do something about that.”
Vibrant Communities Calgary, a non-profit organization that works to end poverty, is also calling for better wages for workers, and has been urging the City of Calgary to adopt a living wage policy.
One out of every eight employed Albertans (234,200 people) make less than $12 per hour, considered by Statistics Canada to be below the poverty level for an individual working full time.