Restaurant group boycotts Saskatchewan's Minimum Wage Board

Association representing employers says "the fix is in" and the board doesn't want to hear from anyone opposing a wage hike

The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CRFA) is boycotting Saskatchewan’s Minimum Wage Board. The group is upset at the board because it says it “has consistently refused to consider the views of employers in its deliberations.”

Mark von Schellwitz, CRFA’s vice-president for Western Canada, said the board is only interested in hearing from those who want an increase in the minimum wage and has no interest in hearing from groups that oppose a wage hike.

“The Saskatchewan Minimum Wage Board has lost all credibility with small business employers and the restaurant industry in particular,” he said. “Based on the board’s history and current makeup, it’s clear that the fix is in and the board will recommend another arbitrary increase to the minimum wage.”

The CRFA said it will bypass the board and take its concerns directly to the premier and the cabinet. CRFA has raised a number of concerns with the government concerning the board. The CRFA claimed:

•In its last minimum wage review, the board would not meet with CRFA, even though the association represents the industry that employs the most entry-level employees.

•The employer representatives to the board are now political appointments. The opportunity for employer groups to provide input on the appointments has been taken away.

•During past consultations the so-called employer representatives were not allowed to meet with the small business association representatives.

•The board recommended a substantial minimum wage increase during the last review, but could not explain its rationale.

•The board has reneged on a 1996 commitment to study the impact of a gratuity wage differential or training wage differential for the hospitality industry.

“It seems the board is only interested in hearing from those who want a minimum wage increase,” said von Schellwitz. “There are progressive tax measures that can be taken to increase take-home pay without putting entry-level jobs in jeopardy, but the board refuses to consider them.”

The CRFA said 4.9 per cent of workers in Saskatchewan earn the minimum wage, and many of them earn gratuities that push their income “much higher” than the minimum wage. The group argues that these employees will see their income drop if employers have to reduce hours to absorb a minimum wage increase.

“The board also refuses to acknowledge that the majority of minimum wage earners are high school students working part time who do not rely on this income as a living wage,” the CRFA said in a statement. “Increases in minimum wage reduce these entry-level job opportunities.”

Saskatchewan’s 1,800 foodservice establishments employ 36,600 workers, including 17,500 people under the age of 25, it said.

Earlier this year Jon Yeo, chair of the Minimum Wage Review Board, said the review was being undertaken because the provincial minimum wage had not been reviewed in almost two years. The province’s minimum wage has been set at $6.65 an hour since Nov. 1, 2002.

“It’s not fair to force minimum wage earners to wait years for a review, and infrequent reviews are also more likely to result in large ‘catch-up’ increases that are not fair to employers,” said Yeo. “Reviewing the minimum wage frequently helps to ensure it more accurately reflects the economic circumstances of the day.”

Yeo said the board hopes to make a recommendation to the province in early 2005. The board is comprised of two business representatives, two labour representatives and the chairperson.

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