The Alberta government has appointed a panel that will research and assess Alberta’s minimum wage.
The nine-member panel is made up of restaurant and business experts, servers from multiple Calgary restaurants, as well as two economists.
Alberta’s minimum wage was raised from $10.20 an hour in 2015, to $15 per hour last September by the former NDP government.
“Alberta currently has the highest minimum wage in the country, and too many hard-working Albertans are struggling to find work,” Labour and Immigration Minister Jason Copping said at a news conference in Calgary on Thursday.
Copping said the former government’s decision to increase the minimum wage wasn’t well studied, and while there have been many studies around those types of increases, none have specifically looked at Alberta’s economy.
University of Alberta economics professor Joseph Marchand will chair the panel.
Marchand was critical of the NDP’s minimum wage hike, and authored a report for the C.D. Howe Institute, warning of potential impacts to the economy.
According to the report, published in 2017, the planned increase to the minimum wage would result in the loss of 25,000 jobs in Alberta.
Overall, the panel will look into the minimum wage for hospitality workers and alcohol servers in the province.
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“The minimum wage expert panel will first publish findings of Alberta’s recent minimum wage increases,” Copping said. “And second, assess whether a wage differential for hospitality industry workers who serve alcohol could lead to higher net incomes.”
Panel members include representatives from Restaurants Canada, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, professor of economics Anindya Sen, as well as owners of the Running Room and Express Employment.
Three servers are also on the panel; two work for Calgary’s Blink Restaurant and the other works for Chop Steakhouse.
It’s unclear whether any of the servers on the panel make minimum wage.
“I’m very confident that these experts will use their very diverse perspectives to provide me with very solid advice and I’m looking forward to reviewing their findings and recommendations,” Copping said.
The panel is expected to meet in September and provide recommendations to the government by mid-January 2020.
Whether the government will implement policy changes based on the recommendations from the panel remains unclear.
“From our perspective, if you did a change in the liquor wage differential like other provinces have, can we expect that will increase incomes or not?” Copping said. “Based on that, we’ll make a decision.”
Mark von Schellwitz is the vice president of Western Canada for Restaurants Canada and he is a member of the government-appointed panel.
Although Restaurants Canada has been critical of the increase to minimum wage in Alberta and has lobbied for lower wages for alcohol servers, von Schellwitz calls the differential wage a win-win.
“It provides more hours on the floor for liquor servers which means they can earn gratuity and increase their income that way,” he said. “It provides better service to our guests who are going to get better service with more servers on the floor. It allows restaurateurs to take some of their labour budget dollars and allocate it towards higher wages for their non-tip back of the house employees.”
The opposition NDP believes the UCP has stacked the deck in favour of lowering wages for alcohol servers with those who have been appointed to the panel.
According to Opposition critic for labour and immigration Christina Gray, cuts to the minimum wage will negatively impact Albertans.
“We know a $15 minimum wage means more money in the pockets of Albertans who will spend it in our local economy. This is good for workers and jobs,” Gray said. “We also know it’s wrong to pay a group of workers, made up of mostly women, a lower minimum wage than everyone else.”
Prior to the election campaign, Jason Kenney floated the idea of a separate minimum wage for young workers and alcohol servers in the province.
However, Copping made it clear the government would not be lowering the $15 adult minimum wage.
In June, the UCP government implemented a $13 minimum wage for workers under the age of 18, students working on their holidays and for the first 28 hours of the school week.
“The whole election that we just went through was about jobs, and was about who’s vision is better for creating more jobs in Alberta,” pollster Janet Brown said. “For Jason Kenney, I think that’s what it’s about, giving employers the flexibility so that they can start hiring back Albertans and trying to remove the high minimum wage as a barrier to that.”
Separate wages for young workers and liquor servers have already been implemented in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.