Reg Warkentin, policy and advocacy manager with the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce. (Advocate file photo)

Red Deer Chamber welcomes proposed Alberta youth wage reduction, overtime changes

Reducing youth wages $13 a hour will open up more jobs for young people, says a chamber manager

Cutting minimum wage for youth workers should help open up more job opportunities for young people and also be a win for businesses, says the Red Deer Chamber.

“It’s something that we, Alberta chambers, have been advocating for a few years,” said the local chamber’s policy and advocacy manager Reg Warkentin.

He supports a move by the new United Conservative government to reduce the minimum wage for workers age 13 to 17 to $13 from $15 starting June 26, saying it should brighten the employment picture for young people who now have nearly double the average unemployment rate as adults.

If the bill is passed, Warkentin predicts the tight job market will ease: “They’ll be able to get their foot in the door.”

While some youths worry about their ability to save up for higher education, the proposed bill would make exceptions for 17-year-olds who will get $13 for the first 28 hours worked each week. Warkentin said, “They would get $15 an hour, the same as everybody else,” for any time worked above that for the rest of the week.

“It does really account for youths working part-time because they need to save for school.”

Businesses would see a cost benefit— but Warkentin doesn’t think this will imperil the jobs of those age 18 or older who have valuable experience that’s still needed by employers.

The Red Deer Chamber would have liked the bill to go further and also make a wage reduction for servers and others who receive regular tips that can as much as double their income. Warkentin believes having to pay tip-generating workers the $15 minimum hourly wage makes it more expensive for consumers, as businesses have to charge more for meals and other services to make a profit.

While the Alberta Federation of Labour is critical of the bill’s proposed overtime pay change, Warkentin said many companies have had a hard time offering days off at time-and-a-half to workers for their banked overtimed.

The new bill would allow time off to be given out in straight time, while paid overtime would continue to be provided at time and a half. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has argued would give employers more flexibility.

Warkentin said the Red Deer Chamber, with only six paid employees, has had to do a lot of juggling to try to accommodate the additional time off requests under the time-and-a-half rules.

If passed, the proposed bill will again make union certification votes a mandatory secret ballot. Warkentin agrees that “it should be a choice that is free of undue influence.”

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