Alberta introduces bill to change overtime pay, reduce youth minimum wage

EDMONTON — Alberta is cutting the minimum wage for young workers and making other changes to overtime, holiday pay and votes for union certification.

Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government has introduced a bill, which if passed would reduce the minimum wage for workers aged 13 to 17 to $13 an hour from $15 an hour, starting June 26.

The $15 rate, the highest in Canada, would remain in place for everyone else.

Kenney says the deal still gives a good wage to young Albertans compared to other provinces, while giving employers resources to hire more of them.

“Look — 13 bucks an hour — that’s a heck of a lot more than zero bucks an hour. And that’s the option here,” Kenney told reporters after the Open for Business Act was tabled in the legislature Monday.

“We’ve got 30,000 young Albertans here out of work. We want to get them their first job experience. We’re talking about part-time, teenagers who are typically in high school, working typically 20 hours a week or less.”

Under the former NDP government, Alberta’s minimum wage rose to $15 an hour from $10.20. Rachel Notley, then premier and now Opposition leader, argued the hike was critical because workers were owed a living wage.

Notley said Monday the age-based tier is unfair given that some students may have as many financial obligations as adults, or at least want to start saving for their future education and other necessities.

“Albertans, young or old, deserve equal pay for equal work,” she said. “Rolling back the minimum wage for young people demonstrates a lack of compassion and, quite frankly, a lack of respect.”

The bill also proposes to cancel changes instituted by Notley’s government on overtime, allowing it to be paid out as straight time rather than time-and-a-half.

Kenney said it gives employers more flexibility to give workers more hours, and therefore more pay, if they choose.

“It’s a flexibility tool that we’ve always had in Alberta, until just a year ago,” he said.

Notley called it a major rollback of potential earnings for 400,000 workers, particularly in the oil and gas and construction sectors.

“The average oil and gas worker could lose $2,500 on a 12-week project, if forced to bank that (over)time at straight time,” she said.

There are other proposed changes.

Under the bill, only employees who regularly work on a general holiday will be entitled to receive holiday pay.

The eligibility period to qualify for statutory holiday pay is also changing. Currently, as soon as an employee is hired, they are eligible. Under the proposed legislation, an employee has to have worked 30 days over the preceding year to qualify.

The bill would also restore a mandatory secret ballot for all union certification votes.

And it is proposing to return to a 90-day period for unions to provide evidence of employee support for certification.

Gil McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labour said the changes to youth and overtime pay are self-defeating.

“Cutting wages and cutting jobs won’t strengthen the Alberta economy. It will weaken it,” he said.

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