The Alberta government releases the minimum wage report more than 3 years after it is submitted

A waitress wears a mask as she brings drinks to patrons on a pub's terrace in 2020.  The Alberta government released a report on the minimum wage that was finalized in February 2020 but wasn't released until Friday.  (Justin Tang/Canadian Press - photo credit)

A waitress wears a mask as she brings drinks to patrons on a pub’s terrace in 2020. The Alberta government released a report on the minimum wage that was finalized in February 2020 but wasn’t released until Friday. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press – photo credit)

The provincial government finally released a report Friday on the impact of minimum wage increases under the previous NDP government, which it had kept secret for three years.

The panel was appointed in 2019 by then-Labour Secretary Jason Copping to look at whether moving to a $15 minimum wage in 2018 was hurting the job market, and to determine whether food and liquor waiters would make more from tips if they would receive a lower hourly rate.

The Minimum Wage Expert Panel presented its findings in February 2020. However, the government did not release the report until Friday. Last summer, the Labor Department said the report would never be released.

Last month, Joseph Marchand, the University of Alberta economics professor who chairs the committee, urged the province to release the report ahead of the election.

In an interview with CBC News, Marchand said he was glad the report was finally out.

While some advice may be a bit outdated, he said most of the report remains relevant as it examines what happened when the $15 minimum wage was introduced.

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 part of this discussion so the information in the report would help.

“It should just be there for them to say, ‘That’s what happened with this policy from 2015 to 2019. What can we learn?’” Marchand said. “How may this contribute to what we should do next regarding this policy and related policies?”

The 67-page report recommends the province reinstating the lower minimum wage for tip-earning alcohol servants, which was scrapped by the NDP government in 2016.

According to the report, waiters would earn more per hour this way and restaurant owners could hire more staff.

To ensure waiters keep the tips they earn, the provincial panel is proposing to introduce legislation to prevent restaurants from using a pool system where tips are shared among all employees.

The report examined the phased increase to a $15 minimum wage between 2015 and 2018 and said it resulted in the loss of 23,000 to 26,000 jobs, mostly in the 15-24 age group.

It also found that the wage increase increased the number of people paying a minimum wage – from 2.3 percent in 2014 to 11.5 percent of Alberta workers in 2018.

The panel recommends that the government introduce a starting wage for less experienced workers and introduce a CPI-linked formula for future minimum wage increases.

The formula could also take geography into account by setting wages according to local living costs. A mandatory notice period of at least four months would help employers prepare for wage increases, the report said.

NDP declines report

Brian Jean, Minister for Labour, Economy and Northern Development, commended the panel’s work and urged people to read its report. But he said the government has no plans to act on their advice.

“Contrary to claims by the opposition, the Alberta government has no plans to change the current minimum wage structure or introduce a separate minimum wage for liquor,” Jean said in a written statement.

“My key takeaway from the panel report is that large, unexpected minimum wage changes can actually hurt employment. These changes require extensive consultation and thought.

“Maintaining the current minimum wage gives workers and employers predictability and stability in times of economic growth and labor shortages.”

NDP labor critic Christina Gray doesn’t believe Jean’s statement. She said the UCP will push change if they win a second term in government in May’s election.

“He’s not saying he won’t rule it out in the future,” she said, adding that before she became prime minister, Danielle Smith advocated a lower minimum wage for entry-level workers without “qualifications”.

Gray, who was Labor Secretary under the previous NDP government, said she was not surprised by the report’s recommendations on who was on the panel.

She notes that other provincial governments have followed Alberta’s lead, raising their minimum wage to $15 or more.

Marchand was disappointed by Gray’s rejection of the entire report. He said he wants people to read the information and talk about it.

“I want to hear that dialogue,” he said. “To say no with all my heart, I don’t want to hear that dialogue. That’s just ignorant. But any dialogue that comes out of that productive dialogue could only be a good thing, in my opinion


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