Alberta government strikes panel to advise on wage cut for alcohol servers

EDMONTON — A panel will explore whether cutting the minimum wage for Alberta’s alcohol servers could give them more working hours and boost their overall income with more tips.

Labour Minister Jason Copping says the panel of academics, industry leaders and workers is to report back in the new year.

The panel is also tasked with consolidating existing studies on the effects of a minimum-wage increase under Alberta’s former NDP government.

The New Democrats under Rachel Notley raised the hourly wage to the current $15 from $10.20 — the highest in Canada — and eliminated a reduced rate for alcohol servers. She said at the time that the increase gave workers a living wage and that they would reinvest the money in the economy.

Premier Jason Kenney’s new United Conservative government cut the minimum wage to $13 for workers under 18. It said the lower rate will make it easier for employers to hire and reduce Alberta’s youth unemployment rate.

Kenney also said during the spring election campaign that he talked to alcohol servers who told him the wage increase forced employers to cut their hours, and a wage cut would be more than offset by higher tips from more hours worked.

“The minimum wage expert panel is an important part of the government’s common-sense plan to not only get Albertans working again but also to prove to investors that Alberta is indeed open for business,” Copping told a news conference in Calgary on Thursday.

The panel is headed by Joseph Marchand, associate professor of economics at the University of Alberta.

When the NDP took over in 2015, the pay rate for liquor servers was $9.20 an hour, one dollar less than the minimum wage. The rationale was that servers got the balance back in tips.

The NDP eliminated the differential in 2016 by putting alcohol servers on par with the rest of minimum-wage earners.

Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia have reduced wages for servers.

NDP Labour critic Christina Gray said the panel has been picked to come to a pre-determined conclusion. She noted that Marchand has already written a paper saying a higher minimum wage could bring job losses.

“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 in a statement.

“We also know it’s wrong to pay a group of workers, made up of mostly women, a lower minimum wage than everyone else.”

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