Restaurant industry consulted, public ignored in drafting of 12-year-olds at work policy

[Edmonton] The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) today released documents it received through a FOIP request that show the Alberta government actively involved only the Alberta Restaurant and Foodservices Association (ARFA), the main lobby group for restaurant employers, in the drafting of a new policy relaxing rules allowing 12-year-olds to work in restaurants.

In an email dated March 15, 2004 between government officials, it says "we have approval to proceed with the proposed changes for the adolescent permit process, subject to us getting ARFA on side." Other documents proceed to show that one, and possibly two, meetings occurred between HRE officials and ARFA in April 2004.

These meetings occurred 15 months before the implementation of the policy on June 3, 2005. They are the only consultations recorded in the documents - no other group appears to have been contacted. Employment Standards rules were changed earlier this year to allow restaurants to hire 12 and 13 year-olds without asking government permission.

"The significance of these documents is they show the government went out of its way to make sure a policy satisfied a particular set of employers, at the expense of workers and the general public," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "They did not consult with any other stakeholder. They did not hold public consultations. Just a behind-closed-doors meeting with the employer association followed by a quiet, under-the-radar-screen implementation."

"In 15 months, the only group HRE could get around to contacting was the employer organization?" asks McGowan.

"A policy that has wide-ranging ramifications for Albertans, and the only people they can think to consult is the employers? It is like changing smoking laws and only consulting the tobacco industry."

McGowan suggests the documents are just the latest evidence of a one-sided approach to policy making by the Conservatives. "For the Conservatives, the needs of employers are paramount, which means the interests of the rest of us take a back seat. This is how bad policy is created - and the 12-year-old policy is clearly BAD policy."

"There is a culture of one-sidedness in this government," McGowan points out. "At the LRB, Chairs are drafting legislation with employer lawyers to rip up collective agreements. In Employment Standards, officials are holding closed-door sessions with employers to craft policy putting 12-year-olds to work. What kind of democracy is this?"

The documents also reveal:

  • HRE Officials informed restaurant employers of the change three days before informing their own staff
  • HRE Officials actively participated in disseminating information about the change, including writing articles for ARFA's newsletter before the policy was implemented
  • The Human Resources Minister was informed of the policy proposal in February of 2004, contradicting public statements made by Mike Cardinal
  • Policy deliberations began as early as September 22, 2003 - a full 21 months before the policy was implemented

The AFL will be pressuring the government for more transparency and even-handedness in future policy changes. The AFL continues to oppose the new rules regarding 12-year-olds, and renews its call for its repeal.

"The government tried to downplay this issue as simply a small administrative change. The FOIP documents reveal quite the opposite. They knew it was a controversial issue and they intentionally kept the public in the dark." McGowan concluded.

NOTE: Copies of the relevant FOIP documents are available from the AFL office at (780)483-3021. See here for Timeline of Records below.


For more information contact:

Gil McGowan, AFL President at 780.915-4599 (cell)  or  780.483-3021 (wk)

AFL FOIP Request Documents

Adolescents in Restaurants

Timeline of Key Points in Process

The AFL's FOIP Request was for all records pertaining to the decision to amend the permit process for the hiring of adolescents in restaurants. 320 pages were responsive. 128 pages were removed in their entirety.

September 22, 2003
First discussion about changing the policy (handwritten notes, p. 6)

January 14, 2004
First draft policy appears to be circulated among HRE staff

February 24, 2004
Advice to Minister sent on issue

March 15, 2004
Policy approved internally, email saying proposal is "subject to us getting ARFA on side" (p. 58)

April 8, 2004
Date of meeting between HRE staff and representatives of ARFA to discuss policy change (p. 88)

April 22, 2004
Possible second meeting (or re-scheduling of first meeting) with ARFA representatives

May 16, 2004
No decision made, but proceeding with proposal (p. 98)

May 27, 2005
HRE staff prepare newsletter article for ARFA (p. 103)

June 3, 2005
New rules take effect

June 3, 2005
Letter to ARFA members (employers) informing of the new policy (p 227-229)

June 6, 2005
Email to restaurant industry association informing of new process, including reference that HRE's "Partnership Consultant has also been in contact with your regarding this new process." (p. 130)

June 6, 2005
Memo to HRE Employment Standards staff informing of policy change


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