By Greg Price
A request by the Joint Economic Development Committee involving the upcoming increase to minimum wage sparked some debate within Barnwell council chambers, but no resolution.
In a letter issued to Barnwell council, and the councils of the Town of Taber, M.D. of Taber and Town of Vauxhall, the Joint Economic Development Committee had requested each council pass a resolution which can be brought forward to the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) and the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMDC) over the concerns of the province’s upcoming minimum wage increases, asking it to be re-evaluated.
The Alberta government will increase Alberta’s general minimum wage to $11.20 from $10.20 per hour on Oct. 1.
By 2018, general minimum wage will be raised to $15 an hour.
“Alberta’s minimum wage is currently the lowest in the country, yet we have one of the highest costs of living,” said Premier Rachel Notley in a late June announcement, when the timeline for the first phased in minimum wage increase was announced.
Debate continues to be heated on both sides where some feel the increases will be the death knell of small business while others say full-time employed Albertans need a living wage.
“Like I said at the (JEDC) meeting, I don’t think it’s our prime mandate to tell government what minimum wage should or shouldn’t be,” said Barnwell councillor Darrell Turner, in opening discussion on the proposed resolution by the JEDC at Barnwell council’s July 16 meeting.
“There is no doubt it is going to drive up costs if they do that. On the news, there’s obviously lots of stir about that from a lot of businesses that aren’t in favour of that,” replied Barnwell Mayor Eric Jensen.
Councillor Jane Jensen said the minimum wage increases as mandated by the provincial government would make it very difficult for many small businesses to survive and questioned if some needed that high of a wage of eventually $15 an hour in 2018.
“I don’t think kids in high school need $15 an hour for flipping a hamburger,” said Jensen.
Businesses will have three years to adjust budgets for the upcoming minimum wage increases, in which Turner noted with $15 an hour at Alberta’s cost of living, Albertans in this wage category would not all of the sudden be living affluent lifestyles.
“By the time 2018 rolls around, the minimum wage will be basically on par with the cost of living. The way I look at it, if you don’t think your employees are worth $15 an hour, then you shouldn’t be hiring. It’s a working-man’s wage,” said Turner.
Barnwell council passed a motion unanimously to accept the committee’s correspondence as information.
Government figures show around 38,600 Albertans were working for the $10.20 minimum wage in March 2015.
Of those, nearly half were over 25 and just over half work full time.
Statistics Canada figures show 383,900 Albertans work for $15 per hour or less in the province.