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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 2, October 2005

Rethink child and youth employment standards

A recent survey of public school students raises concerns that B.C.’s employment regulations have left children and youth with inadequate protections in the workplace.

For many young people, paid work is a positive experience, says Stephen McBride, lead author of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study and a professor of political science at Simon Fraser University. But the survey responses indicate that the regulations employers and parents are supposed to follow are being ignored.

The findings related to children aged 12 to 14 are of particular concern, says McBride. Of the surveyed 12- to 14-year-olds who have jobs:

  • 70% reported they work without supervision some or all of the time
  • 48% reported that their parents did not evaluate the health and safety of the workplace
  • 58% reported that their employer did not receive written approval from their parents.

Yet current employment regulations, introduced by the provincial government in 2003, require that children aged 12 to14 be directly supervised by an adult at all times and that employers have the written consent of one parent or guardian. According to the Ministry of Labour and Citizens’ Services, the parent is responsible for ensuring safe and appropriate working conditions for the child.

The province’s rationale for changing B.C.’s child labour rules, which used to require a permit from the Employment Standards Branch for a child to be hired, was that the system wasn’t effective, says McBride. But the study tells us that the new rules aren’t being followed and that a significant number of children are being left vulnerable to harm.

The study also finds that B.C. provides significantly less protection to child workers than do other jurisdictions in Canada, the United States, and the European Union. In particular, allowing children as young as 12 to work with the permission of only one parent is contrary to the International Labour Organization’s Convention on the Minimum Age.

In addition to questions about work age and conditions, the survey asked respondents about the $6/hour first job/entry level wage, commonly referred to as the training wage.

  • Nearly half the employed youth were paid less than the standard $8/hour minimum wage.
  • Of those, 31% reported that they had not received any training while on the job-entry wage, and a further 29% reported they had been trained only at the start.

If training were necessary, it might provide some justification for paying a reduced wage, says McBride. But in practice, there is little need for training in most jobs students obtain. It goes against the spirit of equal pay for work of equal value and discriminates against youth.

Child and Youth Employment Standards: "The Experience of Young Workers Under B.C.’s New Policy Regime" is part of the Economic Security Project, a joint research initiative of the CCPA and Simon Fraser University, funded primarily by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). Download at www.policyalternatives.ca.

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