Labour Day marked an event of significance – yes, the Stamps won the Labour Day Classic – but more importantly, minimum wage in Alberta increased by 25 cents to $10.20 per hour.

While $10.20 is great for a high school student with little work experience living at home, it’s a different story for a single parent trying to support a family.

Last Monday, Public Interest Alberta released stats on low wage earners in Alberta, illustrating 35 per cent are adults between 25 and 44, and 21 per cent are over 45. Oh yeah, and nearly two out of three low-wage workers are women.

With continual increases in the cost of living, particularly for necessities such as housing and child care, $10.20 is far from a living wage. According to Public Interest Alberta, an hourly wage of $15 is required to move a person past the poverty line.

Of further, grave concern to us as an organization committed to women, is the growing gap between the prevailing minimum wage and the second tier minimum wage for liquor servers, more than 80 per cent of whom are women. Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada with a two-level minimum wage, making our province the outlier in treating women differently.

Prior to the September 1st change, the lower wage for liquor servers was $9.05 per hour, 90 cents behind the minimum wage. With the increases at the start of this month, the liquor servers wage went up a paltry 15 cents to $9.20, increasing the gap to a full dollar. (Who even uses dimes and nickels anymore?!)

When the two tiered minimum wage was brought into effect in Alberta by then-Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk in 2011, the justification was that liquor servers earned a significant portion of their income from tips. As anyone working in the service industry can attest: neither customers nor tips are ever guaranteed.

When a customer’s experience has a direct impact on low wage workers, women are especially vulnerable. Tips can be the difference between making rent or not, and sometimes the difference between tips or no tips is tolerating harassment.

The discriminatory two tiered wage sends a (perhaps unintentional) message: a (female) server can make a decent income… as long as she is charming (flirtatious) and she dresses fittingly (to accentuate her female assets). In short, women need to be “womanly” to earn enough to survive.

That message just doesn’t sit right with us.