Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
June 21, 2010
Archdiocese asks province to boost minimum wage
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - The Alberta government should lift its freeze on the minimum wage in the province and increase it immediately by at least 12 cents an hour, says the social justice office of the Edmonton Archdiocese.
In a June 15 presentation to the legislature's standing committee on the economy, archdiocesan spokesman Bob McKeon urged the government to find ways other than the minimum wage to address "the dire situation of the working poor in Alberta."
But McKeon said the government must at least return to its previous policy of linking the minimum wage to changes in Alberta's average weekly earnings.
Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk froze the minimum wage in February, reversing the three-year-old policy of tying the hourly minimum to average weekly earnings.
During that time, the Alberta minimum wage rose from $8 to $8.80 an hour.
McKeon said the Alberta minimum is still only the sixth highest in Canada, ranking below provinces such as Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario.
He also pointed to a recent report that found the percentage of working people in Alberta who use food banks is twice the national average.
THE POOR COME FIRST
McKeon, the archdiocese's social justice officer, said Catholic social teaching calls for "preferential concern for the poor and marginalized."
McKeon cited Pope Benedict's statement that a competition for capital in a global economy "leads to a downsizing of social security systems as the price to be paid for seeking greater competitive advantage in the global market, with consequent grave danger for the rights of workers (and) for fundamental human rights."
He also noted Lukaszuk's rationale for freezing the minimum wage was to ensure "that our province's industries are competitive and continue to provide jobs and prosperity."
McKeon said Catholic social teaching calls for society to be organized with a priority on the common good.
"Society," he said, "should be organized in a way that individuals, families and groups can readily achieve their own development and fulfillment.
"Employment that pays a wage adequate to support workers and their families is certainly a major part of this understanding of the common good."
He called on the committee and the government to explore other ways of addressing the situation of the working poor, including possible implementation of a "living wage" policy.
A living wage, he said, acknowledges that the minimum wage cannot adequately sustain workers and their families.
"The goal of the living wage campaigns is to insist that businesses seeking government contracts need to include a living wage pay scale that is a specified amount above the minimum wage if their bids are to be successful."
More than 120 U.S. cities have adopted living wage policies, McKeon said.
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