Young men fill out employment applications at a jobs fair in Calgary in 2014.
As Alberta’s new minimum wage rate for young workers comes into effect, business groups say fears that current staff members will see their wages docked by employers are overblown.As of Wednesday, it will be legal for employers in Alberta to pay $13 per hour to students under the age of 18, compared to the $15 minimum wage for non-students and adults.The UCP government has said the lower rate is designed to address the higher youth unemployment rate by making it easier for employers to hire students. However, the move has its critics — more than 110 Alberta businesses have already signed on to Alberta15, a public online pledge to maintain a $15 minimum wage for all employees regardless of age. A social media campaign is calling on Albertans to support those companies that have declared their commitment to equal pay for young employees.Richard Truscott, vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said it’s great that some companies want to continue paying the higher wage rate, but businesses who do take advantage of the $13 rate should not be “vilified.”“I don’t want to see the unions or any political party trying to make political gains out of this by supporting boycotts of people that do decide to pay the new youth wage,” Truscott said. “There will be employers who are going to look at that entry level youth wage and say, ‘that works for my business, and I’m going to use it to create more of those entry-level positions’, and that’s good, too.”Truscott said he thinks there is a perception that employers are going to immediately roll back the wages of their teen employees starting Wednesday, but added that makes little sense from a business perspective.“They may start hiring at the new wage rate for new employees, but I can’t imagine any good business owner wanting to roll back wages for people who have been with the business for any reasonable length of time,” he said. “If they are a productive employee, the business owner is going to want to keep them.”Ken Kobly, president and CEO of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce, said none of the businesses he’s spoken to have indicated they will dock the wages of employees already on the payroll — though many have indicated they will hire future employees at the lower rate.“Definitely, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. If you follow social media, it’s like people think every kid is going to be rolled back to $13 instantly,” Kobly said. “Well, that goes counterintuitive to what I’ve been hearing from employers.”According to the legislation, if employers choose to lower the wage of a student employee, they must notify the worker before the first pay period when the lower wage would take effect. Some employers have already indicated they will not do anything to affect the wages of existing employees. Movie theatre company Cineplex, for example, said in an email to Postmedia that it will continue to pay the $15 for current employees but implement the $13 rate for future youth hires.But NDP labour critic Christina Gray said it’s disingenuous to suggest all or even most employers will refrain from rolling back wages. She pointed to the example of the Edmonton Public Library, which — according to media reports — had a pay reduction for some of its student workers scheduled based on the new minimum wage rate but changed its plans in the face of public outcry.“I do believe that there will be employers who will roll back young workers’ wages,” Gray said. “I think employers planning to do this are not talking about it publicly, because it’s an unpopular opinion.”Gray said the changes to Alberta’s minimum wage rate are creating fear and uncertainty for young people, and even creating confusion among business owners.“How do I determine if someone is a student? What if somebody’s graduating? How do I track and ensure I’ve appropriately calculated each person’s age? The additional requirements on business owners to manage this change is significant,” she said.However, Truscott said the CFIB’s monthly survey of its members shows business optimism and hiring intentions in Alberta have increased over the past two months, and he believes the UCP government’s “flexibility” on minimum wage is part of the reason.“It’s not the only piece of the puzzle, but it’s an important one,” Truscott email@example.comTwitter: @AmandaMsteph