It’s not a good time to be a worker or a young person in Alberta. If you happen to be both, you’re really screwed. That’s because one of the first steps that the Jason Kenney United Con Party took was to slash the minimum wage for young workers by 13%, from $15 to $13 an hour, effective immediately.

Kenney said he doesn’t understand the concern that some people expressed with paying young people less money. “Look—13 bucks an hour—that’s a heck of a lot more than zero bucks an hour.”

Kenney and the United Cons claim that this will mean more opportunity and jobs for young workers, but the reality is that those who will benefit will be the business lobby who strongly supported them in the recent election. Most experts believe that this change will hurt young people.

Wage cuts don’t create jobs

One of those experts is Professor Bob Barnetson from Athabasca University. He stated the truth of the matter when he said that “Employers will most likely just pocket those savings rather than create new jobs.” And why wouldn’t they? Employers don’t hire workers based on how much money employers have. They hire workers based on their need for workers. So when reducing the minimum wage, employers will most likely just pocket those savings rather than create new jobs.

For young people who are trying to finance an expensive post-secondary education, this only makes it tougher according to Professor Barnetson. “Youth who are self-supporting, who are going to school and working to support themselves, this will make it more difficult to put food on the table.”

Damage to employee morale

And one more thing from Professor Barnetson. This will not just hurt young people but will also damage and dampen employee morale. “This is going to create bad feelings in workplaces where two people who are doing the exact same job are making a different wage rate just because one is a little bit older . . . If today you’re making $15 an hour and tomorrow your boss said, ‘Sorry, you’re making $13 an hour now,’ workers are going to be pissed off.”

If there is any good news about this political decision to make young workers a scapegoat, it is that not everybody in the business community is buying in to this regressive move. Many are refusing to implement the lower minimum wage. One of those businesses is Canteen on 124th Street in Edmonton. The owners say they have no intention of scaling back the wages they currently pay their staff. Andrea Olsen said “I can’t take away anything from our workers. We have wonderful, wonderful employees and I think the wage is completely reasonable.”

Stay tuned.

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