Two-tier minimum wage system open to abuse by employers

Swiss Chalet case shows how employers can use weak laws to rip-off workers

EDMONTON – Alberta's poorly written minimum wage laws are subject to abuse, says Nancy Furlong, Secretary Treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour, and Doug O'Halloran, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401 (UFCW 401).

"Employers are taking advantage of weak two-tiered minimum wage laws to rip off the lowest-paid workers in Alberta," says Furlong. "A case before the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) shows how unscrupulous employers can classify minimum-wage earners as 'liquor servers,' even though they rarely if ever serve booze, in order to pay them the lower of the two minimum wages."

The case, brought to the ALRB by UFCW 401 on behalf of workers at the West End Swiss Chalet in Edmonton, centres around the employer's attempt to pay workers the liquor servers' minimum wage of $9.05 an hour, rather than the general minimum wage of $9.40 an hour (will increase to $9.75 on September 1), though they rarely, if ever, serve alcohol. The $9.75 minimum wage allows for the 'occasional' service of liquor, which is precisely the situation of the workers at Swiss Chalet.

"Servers at Swiss Chalet serve chicken and ribs, not martinis and scotch," says Doug O'Halloran, President of UFCW 401. "But the employer is demanding that they accept the lower wage, the one for workers who frequently serve booze. The employer is prepared to lockout these workers in order to get his way and pay them a lower minimum wage than they're entitled."

"There are nearly 26,000 Alberta workers earning minimum wage and only a small minority – like the workers at this Swiss Chalet - have the protection of a union," says O'Halloran. "If one dodgy employer has figured out a way to screw these workers out of $0.35 an hour, you can bet that there are dozens, maybe even hundreds, of other employers doing the same thing."

"There should be one wage for all minimum wage earners in Alberta, one that allows them to earn enough to stay out of poverty," says Furlong. "An all-party committee of the Legislature in 2010 also recommended that there be one wage for all minimum-wage earners, but the government caved to the restaurant lobby and ignored that advice."

"Now the chickens have come home to roost. Employers in the restaurant industry are using the government's shoddy laws and lax enforcement to swindle the lowest-paid workers in the province."

See AFL Backgrounder on Minimum Wage



Douglas O'Halloran, President, UFCW 401, 403-861-2000

Nancy Furlong, AFL Secretary Treasurer, 780-720-8945

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