Lacombe mom Jo Phillips is witnessing the toll a lower minimum wage will take on some people like her son Xander Dumont, 17. Dumont had to change his plans this summer because of the wage cut that comes into affect Wednesday. Photo contributed

Some central Alberta businesses pledge to pay youth $15 ahead of wage cut that kicks in Wednesday

Jo(e) Social Media Inc. and Kavaccino’s pledge to pay youth more than $13 an hour

A Lacombe restaurant is among Alberta businesses saying no to the minimum wage cut for youth.

Sarah Starke, who took over Kavaccino’s about six months ago, has signed up with – a coalition of businesses from across the province who will or want to keep paying those under 18 $15 an hour instead of $13.

More than 100 businesses have signed on from various sectors, including restaurants and retail. Costco is one of the biggest businesses on the list, employing about 3,000 workers in Alberta, according to the website.

The Jason Kenney government has created a separate category for youth, reducing the minimum wage for those 13 to 17 years of age. The new minimum wage comes into effect Wednesday.

Starke, who started working when she was 14, had two jobs by the time she turned 17 – in a deli and a bakery.

“I wanted to own a restaurant, so I started working towards one, because owning a restaurant is expensive,” said Starke, 28, who lived at home in her teens.

“And it only took more than a decade,” she said with a chuckle.

“I don’t think you should be paid less, because it’s not fair, and some of them have as much to save for as adults,” she said of young people.

At 17, Starke said she was working as an apprentice cake decorator.

“People who are 18 may have less experience than people who are younger, but they would get paid more for no reason.”

The new restaurateur doesn’t employ people who are under 18, but plans on hiring two teens this fall to pick up shifts after school. Starke plans to pay them the adult minimum wage – $15 an hour.

The decision by the UCP government is intended to help small business owners such as herself with costs and hiring more young people.

“I might have to work a bit harder, but I knew that when I got into it. You shouldn’t be in business if you can’t afford to pay people. Something is wrong with that business model,” said Starke.

Jo Phillips, co-owner of Jo(e) Social Media Inc., shared the sentiment.

Phillips said penalizing young people is not the best business approach. The Lacombe-based operation hires practicum students to assist with live events, filing and photography from time to time, and they get paid well over $15.

Phillips is witnessing the toll a lower minimum wage will take on some young people. Her 17-year-old son, Xander Dumont, planned to move to Edmonton with one roommate after his high school graduation this summer.

He hoped to work for a year, and save, before attending post-secondary school.

But with the new minimum wage, his plans had to change. He is now living in Red Deer with five roommates.

“He’s at the mercy of the new legislation,” said Phillips. “He already finds it difficult to save for school, pay for his expenses at $15, so he couldn’t see a way through $13 an hour in a big city, so he had to completely change his plan.”

The Lacombe mom explained it’s not easy for youth, given the downturn in the economy, but she is proud of her son’s resiliency and work ethic.

“Our kids, the teens in the last couple years, haven’t had a lot of job opportunities. There hasn’t been a lot out there,” Phillips said.

“Not only does he work as hard as any adult, he gets less respect and he gets taken advantage of more with regards to not knowing the labour laws and stuff like that,” said Phillips.

Both business owners said it’s not fair for young people to get paid less for the same work adults perform.

“Businesses should look at other ways to cut (costs), rather than going after the lowest common denominator,” said Phillips. “Everyone should be paid equal value for equal work.”

Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce CEO Rick More said the businesses that have signed on to and declared to support youth by paying $15 an hour have the right to do so.

“Every business is unique in what they can maintain,” said More.

He noted there are more than 165,000 small businesses in the province, so the 100 plus employers who have signed on to the website would be a small sample.

“It is a discretionary call. Each business will compete for employees and can decide the skill set, personal situation and maturity level of each individual, and can determine wage levels from that.

“We need businesses to start to thrive again, so everyone, from owners to staff, can benefit from the prosperity,” added More.

With files from The Canadian Press

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