BY NICHOLAS KÖHLER • On St. Patrick’s Day, as Calgary’s many pubs ranneth over with patrons, inside and on the chinookthawed patios, many mugs ranneth dry. The trouble? A shortage of bar staff so critical that Alberta’s provincial government last week introduced a novel—some might even say overly refreshed—approach to helping proprietors: letting children as young as 12 work in bars.
RULES WOULD HAVE SEEN CHILDREN AS YOUNG AS 12 WORKING IN BAR KITCHENS
The plan didn’t last. Hours—literally—after the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, an industry lobby group, circulated an email outlining the new rules, which permitted bars to hire staff between 12 and 17 years old provided their duties kept them in the kitchen and away from alcohol, the provincial government backed off. Premier Ed Stelmach and his deputies hadn’t even known of the changes, a spokesman said Friday.
It was the Alberta Federation of Labour that leaked the industry memo, and sparked the flip-flop. “Bureaucrats from Alberta are no different from bureaucrats anywhere else,” says Gil McGowan, the federation president. “They only make decisions they assume their political masters would feel comfortable with.”
Kids would have Still, Alberta’s food been little help here industry is short 11,000 workers, according to Mark von Schellwitz, the industry lobby’s VP for Western Canada. Kids would have helped—even if just a little. “If they didn’t see the front of the house and they’re in the kitchen,” says von Schellwitz, “there’s really not much of a difference between a kitchen—and a kitchen.” And anyway, children younger than 16 were never intended to work in bars. By blitzing media outlets with what amounted to a private email, the labour group was able to make “political hay” of the whole issue.
What went missing from the debate was any consideration to the real victims of the labour shortages—those parched Albertans gathered forlornly outside bars in endless lines last St. Patrick’s Day, unable to order green beer. M
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