Blog | August 30, 2013

By Keith Geirin, Edmonton JournalEDMONTON—A slight increase to Alberta’s minimum wage is set to take effect Sunday, installing a new hourly rate of $9.95 that will remain as the lowest in the country.The 20-cent hike, which will keep Alberta as the only Canadian jurisdiction with a minimum wage under $10, is based on formula established two years ago that links the rate to annual increases in average weekly earnings and the consumer price index.While Human Services Minister Dave Hancock noted less than two per cent of Alberta workers earn minimum wage, a local advocacy group said the larger issue is too few employees are receiving a “living wage” that can lift them out of poverty.Public Interest Alberta released new statistics Friday showing 21 per cent of working Albertans, including 129,000 Edmontonians, get paid less than $15 per hour. The data, ordered from Statistics Canada, also indicates that close to 60 per cent are in their prime earning years over the age of 25.A disproportionate rate of women fall below the $15-an-hour mark — 62 per cent provincewide, Julie Hrdlicka, Public Interest Alberta’s outreach co-ordinator in Calgary said.A worker at the Calgary Women’s Centre said this is an added strain considering women are often primarily responsible for child care.“Every day, I speak to women struggling to get by on low incomes,” said Leah Kelley, the centre’s community engagement co-ordinator.“One crisis is all it takes to plunge further into the depths of poverty.”Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Public Interest Alberta’s executive director, said people earning below $15 an hour — especially single parents — are in a constant struggle to get by in a province with a relatively high cost of living. He said the statistics indicate a growing gap between rich and poor, a trend that doesn’t align with Premier Alison Redford’s promise to develop a poverty reduction strategy and eliminate child poverty by 2017.“We’re saying that for sure the minimum wage is too low, and there needs to be a public discussion about making sure the wages of all people can increase to a living wage,” Moore-Kilgannon said.“We applaud the premier for making the commitment to look at the root causes (of poverty) and to try to get some prevention, but I think people need to speak up now to make sure that we also talk about the fact that someone working full time should not be living in poverty.”Hancock said the government, which is still developing its poverty reduction strategy, is already attacking the problem by providing income support to those who need it, but also by finding ways to help people get past educational barriers or disabilities so they can qualify for higher paying jobs. As an example, he said the province may look at increased support for groups such as Women Building Futures, which assists low-income women to get into a trade.“That’s really the key, to get people into the workforce and then move them into livable wage territory, not create a problem at the bottom end by eliminating lower-end jobs by raising minimum wage to the point that employers can’t afford to pay them,” Hancock said. “Alberta has good jobs available, has good incomes available and is looking for people to fill those jobs, so how we can help you get there?”He said the small number of people on minimum wage in Alberta tend to be young, entry-level employees who quickly move up to higher earnings.The overall statistics are an improvement over data obtained by Public Interest Alberta last year, which put the rate of Albertans making less than $15 an hour at nearly 25 per cent throughout the province.“People may look at (this) as some people are getting better, but people are still getting left out,” Hrdlicka said.But the head of a small business lobby group said the improvement over last year shows Alberta’s strong economy is pushing up wages on its own.“People have been achieving greater prosperity on their own two feet,” said Richard Truscott, Alberta director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.Small businesses can afford wage increases that keep pace with inflation, but Truscott said anything beyond that would hurt workers because employers would have to cut positions or hours.“Small businesses have limited ability to raise their prices. That money has to come from somewhere,” he said.Although Alberta’s minimum wage remains the lowest in the country, the province actually ranks second best when taxes and personal exemptions are factored in, Hancock said.While the base rate rises to $9.95, wages paid to workers who serve liquor will remain at $9.05 per hour. They will stay at that level until the general minimum wage hits $10.05, at which point the two rates will increase together while remaining $1 apart.With files from Jason van Rassel, Calgary Heraldkgerein@edmontonjournal.comRead the article at The Edmonton Journal.