Youth workers will be paid a lower minimum wage if the second bill tabled by the United Conservative government passes.

The provincial government announced Bill 2, the Open for Business Act, on Monday, proposing changes that could affect Alberta’s youngest employees, unions, and holiday and overtime rates.

The first change under Bill 2 would be the implementation of a $13/hour youth minimum wage for students between 13 and 17 years old. Effective June 26, the rate would apply to enrolled students who work 28 hours or less per week, and all hours worked during a school break. 

The provincial government called the proposal a move to address “a youth unemployment crisis.”  According to the government, 11 per cent of Albertans between 15 and 24 years of age are unemployed, compared to the provincial rate of 6.9 per cent. The ministry said it heard from employers there were fewer opportunities for young people because of the $15/hour minimum wage implemented by the previous NDP government.

“I would rather ensure that a young person has that first job than no job,” Premier Jason Kenney said at the announcement.

“Thirteen bucks an hour is a heck of a lot more than zero bucks an hour, and that’s the option here.”

If passed, the legislation would enable employers to ask employees to provide proof of their educational status.

As of the 29th hour worked, student employees would be entitled to the $15/h wage rate, except during school breaks when all hours would be paid at the youth rate.

According to the provincial government, a total of nearly 36,000 Albertans under the age of 18 worked in part-time and full-time positions in 2018.

The majority—30,813 youth—filled part-time roles and averaged 10.33 hours of work per week.

The ministry said it based the proposed system off of Ontario’s, one of two provinces in Canada that has a tiered wage system. Ontario pays a general minimum wage rate of $14/h, and a student minimum wage of $13.15/h. Nova Scotia has an inexperienced minimum wage rate of $11.05/h, and an experienced minimum wage rate of $11.55/h.

Holiday pay and banked time

Bill 2 also seeks to amend Alberta’s Employment Standards Code so that employees who have not worked a total of 30 days in the 12 months preceding a holiday are ineligible for general holiday pay. Only employees who regularly work on a general holiday, and employees who work the holiday despite it not being their normal workday, would still be entitled to 1.5 wages.

The proposed legislation would also repeal flexible averaging agreements to accommodate changes to how banked overtime is compensated.  

Currently, employees can choose to be paid for overtime at time-and-a-half, or receive 1.5 banked time off.

Instead, Bill 2 would allow employers and workers to make straight-time banked hour arrangements, where employees could still choose to bank overtime hours, but at a 1:1 ratio.  

“If an employee wants to go to their employer and ask for a couple days off or a couple of extra hours on their shift when times are good, let’s say in a restaurant business, they should be allowed to negotiate that with flexibility with the employer,” Kenney said.

The government’s official opposition has slammed Bill 2, calling it a “pick your pocket bill” and noting Alberta would become the only jurisdiction in Canada to not bank overtime work at a 1.5 rate.

“This will impact 400,000 Albertans working overtime to care for themselves and their families. Those in construction and the oil and gas sector will get hit the hardest,” Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said.

“We did the math and the average oil and gas worker could lose $2,500 on a 12-week project if forced to bank that time at straight time. That is a huge difference for working people.”

If Bill 2 is passed, both the holiday pay and overtime changes would come into effect Sep. 1.  

Secret ballot votes for union certification

The UCP government is also proposing restoring the mandatory secret ballot process for union certifications in a bid for increased “workplace democracy.” This would mean once a union has established 40 per cent support via card or petition, certification would be confirmed by a majority secret ballot.

Right now, a vote happens when a union demonstrates between 40 and 65 per cent support.

Under Bill 2, employees would have less time to provide evidence of support of a certification application: 90 days.

These changes would be effective when the bill receives Royal Assent.

Changes to marshalling proceedings

The government says it hopes to streamline the handling of workplace complaints involving different bodies by marshalling proceedings.

Bill 2 proposes changes that would allow marshal orders to include investigations and inquiries and a provision that new bodies could become involved in marshalling efforts.

According to the government, the Labour Relations Board would remain the overseeing regulatory body and would decide which forum could most appropriately address a concern.

More labour law changes slated to come

Finally, the labour and immigration ministry has promised to create a supports program it says will help workers better understand and exercise their rights as union (and soon-to-be) members.

However, government officials said the program’s working details are still being decided, and that more information would be made available before the program begins Oct. 1.

Bill 2 did not address two campaign promises by the UCP; the party’s platform vowed to protect workers from being forced to opt in to political contributions without explicit approval, and to reverse the replacement worker ban in the public sector.

On Monday, Kenney said both policies were still on the table, but that the government needed more time before drafting changes.

“We’re making as many changes as we think we can prudently make at this point to send a message about job creation.”

He also did not say if or when a hospitality wage would be put in place. Instead, the premier will appoint a taskforce to determine whether the majority of gratuity-earners would earn more with a differential wage or through increased hours.

A second labour bill will be tabled in the fall.