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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 2, November/December 2003

Cheap and malleable child workers–A gift to employers

by Kathleen MacKinnon

The following excerpts are from a letter by Deborah (MacIver) Stead, Jasper, Ontario, July 2, 2003.

"On May 12, 1995, my 15-year-old nephew made headlines, becoming the youngest person in the province of British Columbia to die in an industrial accident. Luke was only five days into his first summer job when he was killed, buried under a mountain of garbage, while working for Wastech Services Ltd., of Coquitlam. My brother (Luke’s dad) also worked for Wastech, and assumed, because he worked there, that Luke would be safe. It wasn’t until the coroner’s inquest, that we discovered that Wastech had previously been fined for other safety infractions.

"This morning, while watching CTV, I listened to your minister of labour, Graham Bruce, try to justify, why he feels the labour laws should be changed to include 12-to-15-year-olds. I can give him 100 reasons why it shouldn’t."

On October 8, 2003, the B.C. Liberals passed into third reading legislation that would give British Columbia the weakest child labour law in the country. The changes will take effect December 14, 2003.

Process for employing children aged 12 to 15 as at December 15, 2003:

  • Note from one parent or guardian. The note to be kept on file by the employer.

Current permitting process for children ages 12 to 15:

  • Employer applies to the Employment Standards Branch (ESB) for a permit.
  • An Industrial Relations Officer (IRO) visits the work site, interviews the employer, identifies any potential risks or safety issues for the child, and makes a recommendation to the director of the ESB.

  • Director approves or denies permit. Approximately 25% of the permits are rejected. Permits are kept on file at the Employment Standards Branch.

Why introduce changes now?

• Graham Bruce, minister of skills development and labour, gives these reasons:

"Over the past year, we’ve taken a number of steps to give workers and employers greater flexibility in employment standards, to negotiate mutually beneficial relationships that help them compete and prosper, to remove unnecessary regulation and implement employment standards that are fair, effective, and enforceable." (Hansard, October 6, 2003)

• Reverend Dr. Robert Korth, chair of the Justice and Peace Unit Anglican Diocese of New Westminster and a member of our child labour coalition, speaking at a vigil against Bill 37 held at Robson Square on Wednesday, October 15, 2003:

"Young children are now at risk as never before; primary benefits will go not to children but to business; and the provincial government will save money as well as follow through on its promises to deregulate business. Bill 37 will clearly benefit business, which will gain enhanced access to a large pool of workers that is less assertive and cheaper than experienced, organized workers. Certainly the $6 ‘training wage’ is a powerful incentive to employers to hire young, inexperienced staff."

• Some people think the B.C. Liberal government has set the stage for children to work in new industries, including those leading up to and during the 2010 Olympics. In Sydney, Australia, children as young as 14 were issued a business licence and sent off on their own to sell ice cream and other products for a company contracted by Sydney’s Olympic committee. Children worked on their own and handled cash, neither of which would have been allowed under our permitting process but would be allowed now with the changes to B.C. child labour law. By the time the children paid their GST and superannuation, their take-home pay was an average $5 per hour. You’ll find more information on this story at www.bctf.ca/social/ChildLabour/Economic/.

What are the changes to the child labour law?

By mid-December, when the new regulations come into effect, children between 12 and 15 can be employed with only a note from one parent. The note will be kept by the employer only; it will not be filed with the ESB or any other independent agency. No one will check up on employers to ensure that they have notes for the children they employ.

"Some parents will think a few hours of work a week will be an excellent experience for their 12-to-15-year-old. Some parents will tell their children that they have a lifetime of work ahead of them and to focus on school instead. Some parents, perhaps parents under tremendous economic pressures or with language barriers, are not well-informed about the workplace. Finally, the sad exception is those parents or guardians who are irresponsible or even unscrupulous and might approve employment that to a reasonable, fair-minded third party would put their children in harm’s way. We would not have a minister of children and family development if all parents were equally equipped to care for and make decisions for their children. That is why having an objective third party, such as the Employment Standards Branch, is a critical part of the check and balance in the system." (Jenny Kwan, MLA Vancouver Mount Pleasant, Hansard, October 8, 2003)

Does a school/educator have to give permission?

At the moment, the director can only grant child employment permits after receiving written consent from the child’s parent or guardian and the child’s school. As of mid-December 2003, however, no formal permit will be required; the only requirement will be written permission from one parent. Teachers will not even know if one of their students is working since only the employer will have the written consent. Parents who are divorced or separated may not know the other parent has given permission for a child to work.

Is the minister of skills development bringing in new regulations?

After the Opposition in the Legislature pointed out that the Act contained no provisions regarding safety, supervision, and hours of work, the minister promised to introduce regulations to cover them. Amendments attempted by the opposition prohibiting children working between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. were defeated.

The BCTF has asked for input into the new regulations. You can provide input too. Fax the minister a letter, or call your MLA to register your views on these changes. Demand that the new regulations, at a minimum, restrict the hours of work for a child aged 12 to 15 to no more than two hours on a school day, that no employer schedule children to work during school hours or between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m, and that children work under the immediate and direct supervision of an adult, meaning within sight and earshot.

We do not believe the changes to B.C. child labour law are a step forward for our society nor for the children of our province. Childhood is a time for growing, learning, and playing, not for jobs. For more information on child labour in British Columbia, check our web site: www.bctf.ca/social/ChildLabour.

Kathleen MacKinnon is an assistant director in the BCTF’s Communications and Campaigns Division.

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