Thursday, September 1, 2011

Two-tiered minimum wage hypocrisy?

Today is the first day of Alberta's two-tiered minimum wage. Most workers are eligible for a $9.40/hr minimum wage, while workers who regularly serve alcohol as part of their duties are eligible for a $9.05/hr wage. Alcohol servers will not see their minimum wage further increase until the regular minimum wage reached $10.05, at which point, both wages will move up in concert.

The rationale for this two-tier wage (which was rejected by the all-party Standing Committee on the Economy eight-months earlier) provided by the Minister in June was:
“Having a different minimum wage for liquor servers recognizes that these individuals earn a significant part of their income from tips,” Lukaszuk said. “It will also give business owners greater flexibility in the way they pay other staff.”
The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association lobbied for this change and asserted:
“This acknowledges the true fact that liquor servers are not in fact minimum wage earners. It enables the employer, as far as his labour budget, he can devote that money to much more difficult to retain back-of-house staff.”
So it is interesting to review the FAQ the government posted about the minimum wage change. It notes:
6. If an employee normally serves liquor, but does not receive tips, is the employee entitled to the general minimum wage of $9.40 an hour?

No. When an employee normally serves liquor directly to customers, the liquor server rate of $9.05 per hour applies.
There are two reasons a server might end up tipless. The server could do a poor job and does not get tipped. Or the employer disallows tipping or has a tipping policy (e.g., a dine-and-dash fund) that results in a server earning no tips.

I'm hard pressed to think of any server who is so terrible that they never receive a tip. The restaurant culture in Alberta is one where not leaving a tip is a rare event.

That said, regardless of the reason for being tipless, the government's answer on the FAQ runs contrary to the basic rationale for a two-tier wage: that servers gain significant amounts of income from tipping. Where this is not the case, shouldn't tipless servers be entitled to the same minimum wage as every other worker?

-- Bob Barnetson

1 comment:

Cortney said...

I am originally from the States and in the States servers are paid $2-3/hr! When I first moved here I was appalled that my husband only left a 10% tip (15%-20% is standard where I am from). It was not until the argument after that I learned they make at least minimum wage.

I worked in food service through my first degree and the servers did quite well.

Alberta Governments response is interesting though. I wonder what is really behind the two tier scale.