Few Albertans earning minimum wage

Dear Working Wise: I understand the minimum wage in Alberta is going up. I stopped paying minimum wage a few years ago, because it wasn’t enough to attract and retain any staff.

Dear Working Wise: I understand the minimum wage in Alberta is going up. I stopped paying minimum wage a few years ago, because it wasn’t enough to attract and retain any staff. There can’t be that many employers only paying minimum wage anymore, are there? — More than Minimum

Dear More than Minimum: Yes, you are right, only around one per cent of workers in Alberta earn minimum wage. Most minimum-wage earners are 15 to 19 years old and work in the accommodation and food services industries.

Alberta’s minimum wage increased five per cent on April 1, from $8.40 to $8.80 per hour, reflecting the 2008 increase in average weekly earnings in Alberta. The average hourly wage in Alberta is now nearly $24 per hour.

In June 2007, the Alberta government announced minimum wage increases would be adjusted based on the average weekly wage and come into effect April 1 annually. Indexing minimum wage helps make the increases more predictable for both employers and employees.

Alberta’s minimum wage of $8.80 per hour is temporarily second highest among provinces, but once all of this year’s announced increases take effect in other provinces, Alberta’s minimum wage will rank fifth.

A minimum wage is meant to give students or others new to the workforce a foothold in the world of work. It is about getting job experience, work skills, extra income and savings for further education.

The minimum wage is the minimum amount employers must pay workers in Alberta, but there are a few exceptions, including:

• farm or ranch workers;

• securities salespersons;

• real estate brokers;

• insurance salespeople;

• students in approved work-experience programs or training courses;

• counsellors/instructors at non-profit camps; and

• extras in film or video productions.

The exemptions I have listed here are fairly general. Alberta’s Employment Standards also includes a minimum weekly wage of $352 for some salespersons and professionals and a minimum monthly minimum wage of $1,677 for domestic employees.

For a more information on Alberta’s minimum wage rates and exemptions, visit www.employment.alberta.ca/es.

As I mentioned earlier, most minimum-wage earners are youth working in the hospitality industry. However, low-income adults who want to improve their earning power may be eligible for part-time or full-time training grants through the Alberta Works program.

To learn more about the Alberta Works Financial Support for Training program, visit www.employment.alberta.ca/fst or call the Student Funding Contact Centre toll-free at 1-800-222-6485 or locally in Edmonton at 780-427-3722.

Working Wise is compiled weekly by Charles Strachey, a regional manager with Alberta Employment and Immigration. Work-related questions can be sent to him at charles.strachey@gov.ab.ca. Working Wise is provided for general information only. Help with specific situations is available through Alberta Employment Standards by calling 1-877-427-3731.