December 10th, 2018

Chamber joins poverty-reduction group in opposition to minimum wage increase

By Collin Gallant on September 12, 2018.

Medicine Hat News

Chamber of Commerce officials say they’ve partnered with local anti-poverty group Thrive to argue against a minimum wage increase due early next month, which would give one in four Hatters a raise.

New president Sarah MacKenzie and executive director Lisa Kowalchuk told the News this week that increases are too steep and don’t take into account costs to businesses or unintended consequences, such as layoffs.

“We’ve partnered with Thrive on a different structure than the government has laid out,” said MacKenzie.

The minimum wage is set to rise to $15 on Oct. 1, the last in a series of increases the New Democrat government announced three years ago to reach the figure. The local chamber has published two policy papers over that time asking for a slowdown, and more recently a halt until the impacts can be studied.

Thrive was launched in 2016 as a next step in the overall strategy to reduce poverty and homelessness in Medicine Hat.

A report from the group at that time claims the local living wage is $13.65, just five-cents more than the current rate that was adjusted last fall.

The report states the figure is for a family of four, with two full-time working parents.

Their net combined income of $46,100 compares to an expected household budget of $61,738, including child care. That is balanced with government subsidies, low-income benefits and tax credits totalling $16,700.

The government has argued that raising the minimum wage will lift hundreds of thousand of Albertans out of poverty, and that increased wages will result in increased spending in local economies.

The Medicine Hat chamber policy approved earlier this year calls for the rate of $13.60 per hour to be maintained but future increases linked to consumer price index, and that regional differences be considered.

Kowalchuk says local cost of living means Medicine Hat’s living wage calculation is lower, and the effect on business needs to be considered.

“(The policy is) based on a balanced approach to ensure people are given a hand up and how we ensure there’s a balance to the cost of doing business and ensuring people have opportunity,” she said.

A recent study by Public Interest Alberta states data from Statistics Canada shows that one-quarter of the local workforce makes less than $15 and will therefore benefit from the scheduled increase.

The left-leaning group, which advocates for social policy issues, states the salaries of 300,000 Albertans, about 1 in 6 workers, will rise next month.

Specific to Medicine Hat the figure is closer to 1 in four.

About 7,800 workers in Medicine Hat currently make less than $15, of which two-thirds are women and 83 per cent are older than 19.

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