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Changes to B.C. Child Labour Law

On October 8, 2003, the B.C. Liberals passed in third reading changes to the Employment Standards Act in Bill 37 that gives British Columbia the dubious honour of having among the weakest labour standards for working children in Canada, possibly all of North America.

Children as young as 12 will be permitted to work at a job with only a note from their parent. The Minister of Skills Development and Labour promises new regulations regarding safety, hours of work, and supervision but until then the proposed changes would remove any onus on the employer to ensure that children are not assigned to night shift or to an inordinate number of hours in a day or week.

Other provinces in Canada make the distinction between adult and child workers and set out specific safeguards and working conditions regarding the employment of children including restrictions on where and when they can work.

Labour Minister Graham Bruce has stated publicly that the process of having a director grant permission to child workers seeking a job is “just a formality” and to the best of his knowledge, no child’s application has ever been turned down. Yet anecdotal evidence and Employment Standards Branch procedures prove otherwise.

Staff at the Employment Standards Branch took their work seriously. Industrial Relations Officers were required to inspect the workplace, interview the employer about the work to be performed by the child, and identify potential dangers for the young worker. Staff were instructed to say no to many employment situations including but not limited to the following: construction sites, working near moving equipment or machinery, going door-to-door, responsible or accountable for cash, and working alone.

Mr. Bruce quoted in a Globe and Mail story August 10, 2003 stated that, “There is in our society a responsibility on parents as well. It’s fine to think you can place everything on the state, but for things to work you’ve got to have parental involvement.” Yet we know permits that are eventually denied by Industrial Relations Officers were signed by a parent or guardian. Parents do not always know that a workplace is unsafe and children do not complain.

Regulations and strict procedures regarding child employment are required and have proven effective. Children need a reasonable, fair-minded third party and regulations that will ensure their rights are protected and they are not excluded from the joys of childhood.

Helesia Luke, a Vancouver parent, researched, analyzed and wrote Bill 37 Proposed Changes to B.C. Child Labour Law. This excellent paper summarizes the changes proposed to Bill 37, outlines the current permitting processes, highlights the proposed changes, and suggests strategies for advocacy.

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