As the Alberta government enters a series of consultations with stakeholders, Minister of Labour Christina Gray remained steady on plans to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2018 despite the continued economic downturn.
“We are still committed to that goal. Alberta’s current minimum wage does not allow the workers earning minimum wage to meet the basic needs of themselves and their families,” she said in an email to the Rocky View Weekly.
The first phase in the plan was carried out Oct. 1, 2015, as workers saw hourly rates increase from $10.20 to $11.20. Liquor servers saw their hourly wages increase from $9.20 to $10.70.
But putting the proposed increases in place by 2018 could be too fast a move, according to some local small business owners.
“We are just one of the thousands of businesses that is going to feel the pinch with the economy the way it is,” said Gary Gee, owner of Irricana Family Restaurant. “Life is challenging as it is. But this will just (pile on).”
The upcoming consultations will involve discussion with employers, social service organizations and low-income earners, according to Gray. Though the government has heard concerns from small business owners, Gray said the timetable is unlikely to change.
“In a small town like Irricana, the deal is basically we can do as many hours as we can,” Gee said. “You try to make some money, you’d like to pay everybody, you (need) to pay bills, but what’s left for yourself? That’s the bottom line.”
Gray cited a reduction in small business taxes, new business tax credits and the reinstation of the Summer Temporary Employment Program as among initiatives being rolled out to help small business owners.
“Our government is listening to the concerns coming from the business community and is mindful of the effects that changes have on workers and small business owners,” Gray said. “Our government recognizes the need to support small business owners and we are taking action to do just that.”