Former teen workers reject Kenney's idea to roll back minimum wage for youth

Reducing the minimum wage for alcohol servers and youth, would be a step backwards and hurt vulnerable Albertans, say some workers who entered the workforce at a young age.

'I was being offered what I thought was a really ridiculous wage and people were calling it a student wage'

Jason Kenney told restaurant owners during an event at the Matrix Hotel in Edmonton on Tuesday that it 'makes sense' to bring in lower wages for youth. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Jason Kenney's idea to reduce the minimum wage for alcohol servers and youth would be a step backwards and hurt vulnerable Albertans, say some workers who entered the workforce at a young age.

In a speech to restaurant owners in Edmonton Tuesday, the UCP leader mused that reducing the minimum wage for bar staff and servers under 18 might help struggling restaurants.

Kenney suggested a 15-year-old would not have the same income requirements as a 25-year-old single mom.

But Angela Holmes disagrees.

As a teenager in Spruce Grove in the 1990s, she needed work to pay for basic necessities such as food and rent.

At age 12, she started working odd jobs for neighbours, she said. 

When Holmes applied to get a "real job" at 16, she found that raking leaves and shoveling snow paid more than stocking shelves at a grocery store, she said.

"I was being offered what I thought was a really ridiculous wage and people were calling it a student wage," she told CBC's Radio Active on Wednesday.

Bashir Mohamed, 23, said he started working as a teenager to help support his family who came to Canada as refugees.

He worked part-time at a Cineplex movie theatre in north Edmonton after school sometimes until midnight.

"Even though it wasn't much it definitely kept our heads above the water," he said.

In Alberta, from 1977 to 1998, youth under 18 were subject to a lower minimum wage than adults, $.50 less than the general minimum wage, according to the Alberta Federation of Labour.

Kenney did not say what rate he would consider for youth. 

The youth rate was eliminated under Ralph Klein.

"I think it's absolutely incredibly neglectful that we would move backwards," Holmes said. "Minimum wage doesn't pay for very much, even if you're a kid who doesn't have to pay rent."

Garner Beggs, co-owner of Cafe Linnea and Duchess Bakeshop in Edmonton, said he would support a reduced minimum wage for young workers.

The current minimum wage of $15/hour, which came into effect in October, may not make sense for a 14-year-old working at their first job, he said.

"It acts as a total disincentive for me to hire kids that are looking for their first job to gain valuable skills, that I have to teach them from the ground up," Beggs said.

Beggs said young workers cannot perform all the duties that adults can under the province's labour code.

"They can't work late at night; there's very limiting caps on how many hours they're allowed to work in a week; and there are different standards that applied to workers at that age, which is significant," he said.

Restaurant workers under 18 cannot work during school hours, are not permitted to work between midnight and 6 a.m. and must work under adult supervision between 9 p.m. and midnight.

Beggs said he would often hire youth for busier hours and once they had enough training they would move into a higher-paid position.

Beggs has made a point to offer his employees above-industry-standard wages and benefits to his full-time employees, he said.

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