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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 4, March 2004

Kids on the job: Back to old days?

One moment, Luke MacIver was sorting cardboard at Wastech Services, a Coquitlam recycling plant. The next he was dead, crushed under a pile of garbage when a dump truck driver failed to see the young worker. MacIver was only 15 years old, making him the youngest workplace fatality in B.C. in the last two decades.

"Luke holds the record. I don’t want to see anyone even younger get killed," says his aunt, Deb Stead. In the eight years since the death of her nephew, Stead has had little reason to fear. Now, however, the B.C. Liberals have passed Bill 37, which lowered the minimum working age from 15 to 12.

The bill reduces government oversight of the province’s youngest workers. Before, the workplace of every child under 15 had to be inspected by a government official. Now, a 12-year-old could easily work under the same dangerous conditions that led to Luke MacIver’s death—the coroner’s report cited Wastech for overall deficiencies in training and supervision.

"There’s deregulation and then there’s unregulation," says Graeme Moore of Surrey, who worked for 21 years as an industrial relations officer for the Employment Standards Branch, quitting last year out of frustration with the Campbell government.

Since 1948, children 12 to 14 have needed permission from a parent, from their school, and from the Employment Standards Branch in order to work during the school year. Under Bill 37, all that is needed is a parent’s note to be kept on file by employers. Moore estimates that he and his colleagues turned down one in five work permits for youth under 15, while a further three in five were approved only after changes to the terms of employment.

Among the rejects, Bruce said, were applications to put kids to work as dirt-bike-riding scarecrows in a berry field bristling with unmarked wire at neck height, and to send a 12-year-old picking up garbage alone on the highway’s edge near Surrey. Parents had pre-approved every one of these altered or denied applications, Moore notes.

Excerpted from TheTyee.ca, November 24, 2003, www.thetyee.ca

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