Economic Exploitation and the Olympic Connection
|"Child labour has serious consequences that stay with the individual and with society for far longer than the years of childhood. Young workers not only face dangerous working conditions. They face long term physical, intellectual and emotional stress. They face an adulthood of unemployment and illiteracy."
|Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Child labourers are frequently exploited by employers and often do the jobs of a machine: low-skilled and repetitive tasks. Adults seeking employment or trying to hold on to their jobs are forced to compete with working children. International studies indicate child labour increases during depressed economic cycles and high unemployment much like we are experiencing in British Columbia at present.
The Olympic connection
Is the B.C. Liberal government setting the stage for children to work in new industries, including those leading up to and during the 2010 Olympics? Parents worry when they read what happened at the Sydney Olympics.
In Sydney children of 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 were working on their own and handling cash, neither of which is allowed under our current permitting process. Further children were considered to be 'independent contractors' putting the onus on them to pay their superannuation and GST and leaving them with as little as $5.00 an hour in earnings.
The company Sodexho-Marriott took no responsibility for their safety caring only for their own bottom line. The New South Wales Labour Council claimed that young Olympics workers were being exploited. Under mounting pressure and publicity, Sodexho-Marriott capitulated and agreed to work with the Labour Council on some minimum standards for child workers.
With the changes to B.C. Labour Law, children here could be legally employed in just such abusive and dangerous circumstances with no regulations or independent third party like the Employment Standards Branch looking out for their welfare.
Rights of the child
Ironically, Canada and British Columbia are both signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Section 32 sets out the responsibility of government to protect children in the workplace including the protection for appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of work. Yet the amendments to labour standards for children in Bill 37 will move us in the opposite direction and will make it increasingly difficult for Canada to maintain a leadership role on the international stage.