February 18th, 2019

Pending minimum wage hike will boost local economy: PIA

By Kalinowski, Tim on September 8, 2018.

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald


With the latest minimum wage increase set to take effect on Oct. 1, Public Interest Alberta (PIA) is celebrating the fact 300,000 Alberta workers will receive more pay and a shot at a better life with their families. Low-income workers in southern Alberta and Lethbridge workers will receive particular benefit from the increase, says PIA executive director Joel French.

“I think we have gone on too long as a province with it being OK for workers to be paid less than a living wage,” he says. “To be clear, 15 dollars an hour in some parts of the province is still not a living wage, particularly in the big cities like Edmonton and Calgary … Typically though Lethbridge is around the area where $15 per hour is a living wage and can give a person a basic level of existence and dignity.”

French applauds the government’s decision to bring the basic wage to $15 per hour, and hopes the government will take even more steps to ensure workers can afford to live.

“Putting more money in the pockets of low-income workers is one of the best ways to boost the local economy because lower-income individuals and families are spending all of that back into their communities on basic needs like clothing, groceries and housing,” he says. “I think the next step they should be taking at the provincial minimum wage level is to ensure that it goes up by the cost of inflation every year.”

French says he has noticed a shift in mindset among Alberta employers since the minimum wage started to go up three years ago; one he hopes takes hold going forward.

“The businesses who are having trouble with this hike are the ones who have been paying their workers very low wages,” French says. “I don’t think it is a mean-spirited thing, but I think it is a shift in mindset. It shouldn’t be OK in Alberta for any business to be paying less than a living wage.”

Karla Pyrch, executive director of the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce, acknowledges French’s point.

“We just had our survey out into the community to see what priorities would our businesses want us to be working on,” she says. “Some of the comments we get back is they are concerned about minimum wage continuing to rise, particularly around the hospital industry and some of our smaller businesses.

“On the counter side of that, we do have some businesses responding saying that wage hike is healthy for their employees, and they are in support of it.”

Pyrch says the biggest problem with the minimum wage hike to $15 is how fast that minimum has risen to get to this point, and the other effects of policies like the provincial government carbon tax in accumulating the economic impact to local employers.

“It’s been a dramatic jump to happen so quickly with other costs accumulating at the same time,” she says. “With carbon taxes and new regulations for employers, there has been lost of changes very quickly. There is a lot of effects businesses have to accommodate.”

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