Katy Ingraham, owner of the neighbourhood pub Cartago, is a vocal advocate of paying all employees a living wage.
Ed Kaiser / Postmedia
A growing coalition of businesses in Alberta have pledged not to cut youth employees’ pay when UCP government changes to the minimum wage for youth take effect on Wednesday.The UCP-championed changes will make it legal for employers to pay $13 per hour to students under 18, compared with $15 for non-students and adults. The government has said the lower rate is designed to address an unemployment problem among young Albertans by giving businesses a greater incentive to hire youth.But the more than 110 businesses — from Costco to small auto shops and restaurants — have signed onto Alberta15, a public online pledge to maintain a $15 minimum wage for all employees, rejecting the notion that youth should be paid less for the same work.“Everybody deserves a liveable wage,” said Andrew Cowan, co-owner of restaurant Northern Chicken, on June 10. “And you can’t discriminate based on age or anything like that.”Brian McKay built the online Alberta15 platform — where consumers can view a list of companies who have signed onto the pledge and employees can anonymously report violations — after a Reddit post about the UCP decision in late May “struck a chord.” Having moved out at age 16, McKay said he knows what it’s like to be a young employee working to pay his own bills.“I was one of those kids working in a restaurant (and) I know how hard it is to get out of that hole,” said McKay, who owns the Edmonton-based web design company Tooq. “It’s really tough to get an education when you’re barely scraping by.”Katy Ingraham, co-owner of Cartago restaurant in Edmonton, said she supports the pledge and sees a living wage as “integral” to reducing poverty. She also noted that $15 per hour is just the beginning, as a recent study said it is not even a living wage in Edmonton or Calgary.“We’re going to keep being vocal and letting everyone know that (wage cuts) aren’t something we support,” she said.A matter of choiceDespite the availability of the new rate, Ken Kolby, president and CEO of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce, said he doesn’t think it will change much for youth.During roundtables with businesses since the announcement, none of them have indicated they will cut pay for existing youth employees, he said.“Businesses will probably keep students at the current minimum wage of $15 an hour, but may look at new hires being hired at the lower minimum wage,” said Kolby, suggesting it could help businesses hire additional youth in the summer months.“But just because the minimum wage for students has dropped, it doesn’t mean that employers have to drop that wage.”Both Cowan and Ingraham have noticed slight increases in business since committing to maintaining youth minimum wage at $15. McKay said he hopes that Alberta15 makes it easier for consumers to make informed decisions about where they spend their money.“If this is something you care about, there’s a list of businesses that helps you decide who to patronize,” said McKay, who plans to add a job board feature to the site for people looking for equitably paid work. “And if this is the deciding factor, then you’ve got a reason to choose the one that pays everybody fairly.”firstname.lastname@example.org/moirawytonListen to our Alberta politics podcast, the Press Gallery