Thursday, September 16, 2010

Minimum Wage to Rise

After the government suspended a scheduled increase in the minimum wage and requested the Standing Committee on the Economy to hold hearings this summer, the committee has recommended raising the minimum wage by 25 cents an hour and enshrining some form of indexing in legislation.

While this outcome is good for minimum wage earners, it is a bit hard to fathom what the point of this all was. Minister Lukaszuk's rationale that the scheduled raise imperiled jobs was never credible and clearly the Standing Committee on the Economy decided not to sign on to it.

I wonder if the submissions to the committee tell us something important about how public policy in Alberta is made. Seventy-five percent of the 220 submissions received by the committee were from members of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association. The CRFA has previously complained about increases in the minimum wage. Its own website documents a concerted campaign to freeze and, in some cases, reduce the minimum wage.

A quick look around shows that, when the planned 2010 increase was frozen, the CRFA wrote: "CRFA thanks those members who wrote to Premier Stelmach and the Employment and Immigration Minister over the past year in support of our minimum wage position."

It also noted: "In a follow-up meeting, CRFA thanked Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk for these actions and reiterated the need for minimum wage stability, adequate notice of increases, and the introduction of training wage and gratuity differentials." Perhaps that meeting is the one pictured here?

When the review was announced, the CFRA then encouraged members to sign this form letter. The CRFA's own submission can be found here.

The point of this is that it looks like a special interest group's lobbying influenced the Minister's decision to suspend the planned minimum wage increase and review the government's three-year old policy--decisions that withheld a needed wage increase for the most vulnerable of Alberta's workers. It is not often that one gets a glimpse of how public policy is made in Alberta.

The question this ought to raise for all workers is whether a similar approach to government by, say, a poverty action group seeking an immediate increase in the minimum wage would have triggered such dramatic action by the Minister and the government? If the government wouldn't have taken similar action on behalf of a non-business group, that likely tells us something important and disturbing about the biases of Minister Lukaszuk and the conservative government around the regulation of employment.

-- Bob Barnetson

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