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A waitress serves patrons at a pub in Calgary.

Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

Alberta and Ontario raised their mandatory minimum hourly wage over the weekend, pay increases aimed at reaching $15 an hour.

Alberta's minimum rate went up by $1.40 to $13.60 on Sunday, while Ontario's level rose by 20 cents to $11.60.

As the two provinces hurtle toward $15 an hour, businesses have warned of higher expenses, losses, job cuts and closures.

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Over the few years that Alberta has been hiking the rate, businesses that rely heavily on minimum-wage workers such as restaurants say they have been forced to revamp their operations, slash employees' hours and pass on some of the labour costs to customers.

In Ontario, a coalition of businesses has the same message and says the quick increase would imperil about 2 per cent of the province's work force. It is trying to amend the Ontario government's bill, which is winding its way through the lawmaking process. (Alberta's minimum-wage plan is already law.)

If the Ontario bill is enacted, the steepest wage hike would occur this January when the rate would climb by $2.40 to $14. Then the wage would go up by another dollar to $15 in January 2019.

That is a 32 per cent jump in less than two years.

The business coalition, including retailers and realtors, is urging the province to phase in the hike over a longer period such as five years to give businesses more time to adjust to the changes. Industries that would have to deal with the higher labour costs include accommodation, food services, retail, building services and agriculture. The bulk of the workers in these sectors earn less than $15 an hour.

But Ontario's Labour Ministry will not budge on the timeline.

"We're experiencing strong economic growth, manufacturing exports are up, and businesses are hiring as a result. Despite this growth, we know that not everyone is sharing in the benefits," the province's Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said in an e-mailed statement.

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Wage growth has been weak for months even though job creation is booming. Ontario's unemployment rate recently hit its lowest level in 16 years.

The minimum-wage hikes are designed to help a larger share of the working poor. A quarter of Ontario's employees earned less than $15 an hour last year compared with 9 per cent that earned minimum wage, according to Statistics Canada.

In Alberta, 16 per cent of employees made an hourly wage of less than $15 versus 4.5 per cent at minimum wage.

However, Alberta has been hiking the minimum wage amid the fallout from the energy slump. By the time Alberta hits $15 an hour next October, the minimum wage will have increased by 47 per cent over four years. The last time Alberta raised the wage significantly was a 25-per-cent increase to $8.80 over the 2005-09 period.

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