Alberta’s United Conservative government is cutting the minimum wage for students under 18, an attack on a key policy championed by the previous NDP government, which is seeing its legacy quickly undone under Premier Jason Kenney.
The change makes the province one of two jurisdictions in Canada – Ontario is the other – that allow employers to pay younger workers less than their adult counterparts.
The minimum-wage cut takes effect next month.
The NDP government increased the minimum wage from $10.20 an hour when it took office in 2015 to the current rate of $15 – which has become a benchmark for anti-poverty and labour advocates in recent years – last fall.
Beginning on June 26, the minimum wage for students will be $13 an hour. The change can be made through regulation and does not require new legislation.
Mr. Kenney said increasing the minimum wage in the middle of an economic downturn hurt small businesses and made finding work more difficult for young people. He said the change is aimed at high-school students who work part-time during the school year and have jobs during the holidays.
“This is still a very generous wage – $13 an hour is a lot more than $0,” Mr. Kenney told a news conference on Monday.
“A lot of those teenagers have been priced out of the labour market.”
The youth wage will apply to anyone under 18 who is enrolled in an educational program. When classes are in session, their first 28 hours of each week will be paid at the lower rate and any hours beyond that would be paid at $15. During breaks in the school year, such as the summer holidays, all hours worked can be paid at $13.
Ontario is currently the only the province with a youth wage, although the disparity is much less. Students under 18 can be paid $13.15, compared with the standard minimum wage of $14. Nova Scotia has a lower wage for workers with less than three months of experience.
British Columbia and Ontario have a lower minimum wage for workers who serve alcohol in restaurants and bars. Quebec has a lower minimum wage for workers who receive tips.
Mr. Kenney said the government will appoint a task force to review whether Alberta should also have a lower wage for liquor servers.
The government also tabled legislation that would change the province’s labour rules, notably around union certification, holiday pay and banked overtime.
Union certification votes would be conducted through secret ballots, reversing an NDP policy that required only signed union cards. The legislation would require employees to work 30 days to be eligible for statutory holiday pay, and allow employers to calculate banked overtime pay on a one-to-one basis rather than time-and-a-half.
NDP Leader and former premier Rachel Notley said the UCP government is hitting the pay of some of the province’s most vulnerable people when they can least afford it.
“With jobs and the economy on everyone’s minds, it’s unreal that one of Jason Kenney’s first priorities is to pick the pockets of Alberta workers,” Ms. Notley said.
“This will take Alberta backwards and cut the wages for thousands of people.”
Ms. Notley said many high-school students work to save for postsecondary education or to help with household expenses. She also warned vulnerable teens could drop out of school to earn the higher minimum wage.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said the youth minimum wage is “outrageously discriminatory” and will have unintended consequences.
“Premier Kenney is creating an underclass of workers who could be hired for less and used as pawns to drive down wages for other workers,” he said.