Raises coming for liquor servers 

News of wage increase met with uncertainty in Whistler

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF TOURISM WHISTLER - wage worries Last week, the province announced a pay raise for liquor servers, but some are concerned it will result in fewer tips from customers.
  • PHOTO courtesy of tourism whistler
  • wage worries Last week, the province announced a pay raise for liquor servers, but some are concerned it will result in fewer tips from customers.

Workers who serve liquor as part of their job in B.C. will soon receive a pay raise, the province announced last week.

"Workers deserve a minimum level of protection so that, regardless of a person's job description, they don't earn a wage that is distinctly less than the general minimum wage," said Minister of Labour Harry Bains in a release.

But some servers are concerned about how the change will affect their income.

Chantel Clayden, a local who's been serving for 10 years, said she's heard from several friends and family in Ontario that there's been a noticeable decrease in tips since that province raised its liquor server minimum wage earlier this year.

"As a server, I would prefer to keep the wages low and keep making the same amount of tips, because if I wasn't making the tips that I do, I wouldn't serve," Clayden said, adding that she would likely opt to find a less stressful job for the same wage.

Many servers choose to work in the restaurant industry because the tips lead to a higher income than they'd make in many professional careers. "If it wasn't for the tip money, I would go back to working in my field; what I went to college for," Clayden explained.

Currently, the provincial minimum wage for liquor servers is set at $10.10 per hour, $1.25 below the regular minimum wage. The B.C. NDP government will phase in the wage increase: Liquor servers will see incremental increases on June 1 each year, starting in 2018, until the general minimum wage of at least $15.20 per hour is reached in 2021. The move is based on recommendations from the Fair Wages Commission.

While most Whistler Chamber of Commerce members are "certainly supportive" of minimum wage increases, already-slim profit margins coupled with the phasing out of the liquor servers' minimum wage will "most definitely" pose challenges for local restaurant owners, explained Melissa Pace, the Whistler Chamber's CEO.

"In fact, most are already offering well above minimum wage in order to support and maintain the cost of living for their staff," she added.

"At the end of the day, it's going to be an increase that's going to affect businesses over the long run."

The wage increase is also accompanied by increased Canada Pension Plan and employment insurance costs, higher workspace premiums and increased Medical Services Plan costs for businesses with a payroll over $500,000, pointed out Pace.

"This news is just adding to what a lot of business owners are already struggling with," she said.

Her concerns were echoed by the BC Chamber of Commerce, which is calling on the provincial government to maintain "certainty and predictability" following the announcement.

"Eliminating the liquor server wage for employees, who typically have the highest hourly earnings when gratuities are considered, creates uncertainty for the restaurant industry," said Val Litwin, president and CEO of the BC Chamber of Commerce, in a release.

In an email, Amy Huddle, president of the Restaurant Association of Whistler (RAW), said: "Every increase to labour will unfortunately be eventually felt by the consumer, either with increases to menu prices, reduction in service due to less staff or, as is becoming increasingly common in Whistler, a reduction in hours of operations."

Eric Nordal and Kaitlyn Matulewicz, organizers with Retail Action Network, a Victoria-based organization of retail workers and labour activists, said they welcome the decision.

The current low wages force servers to depend on customers for tips, thus leaving them potentially vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse from customers, they said.

However, both agreed they're disappointed in the timeline set by the government. "It won't be until 2019 that the gap between the regular minimum wage and the liquor servers' wage starts to close," explained Nordal, who also works as a bartender. "Even though (the government's) acknowledged that (the lower wage) contributes to sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace, it is still not making the change immediately—something that, for example, the Alberta government did."

Added Matulewicz: "The perception is that servers get a free ride on tips, but I think that really fluctuates," adding that a server's tips can depend on everything from the type of shift or restaurant to the weather outside that day.

"There's so many variables that impact whether or not someone's earning tips. When someone relies on that income to pay rent, they need some stability and security."

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