The Columbia Journal
P.O. Box 2633 MPO,
Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada V6B 3W8
Cute Kids, Cheap Labour
The face of BC's workforce is changing - it's getting much younger.
On December 14 new labour regulations came into force that position
British Columbia as the most child labour friendly jurisdiction in
In a move resembling a chapter from Dicken's Scrooge, the provincial
government has reduced the standard for child protection and dropped
BC's work-start age from 15 to 12 years. Under new legislation, a child
as young as 12 may wind up selling you a loaf of bread at two am in your
local convenience store, picking up debris on a construction site or
hocking goods door to door - all as government willfully turns a blind
At a time when more and more families are struggling with unemployment
and poverty, government is making it easier to hire children. The
government's claim that mandatory fines on employers will protect kids
fails to recognize the intense financial pressures on BC families.
Encouraging child labour with less government oversight is a recipe for
Under the previous system, an employer was required to apply to the
Employment Standards Branch Director for a permit to hire a child under
the age of 15. This process allowed Branch employees to conduct
worksite inspections and place restrictions on the type and hours of
work. The Branch would consider whether or not potential employment
opportunities would have a negative impact on the child's education,
health or safety. Contrary to the Minister of Labour's claims, Branch
officers frequently declined permit applications or imposed conditions
on employers before issuing permits.
In addition, parental and school consent was required before a child
under 15 could legally work. Through the permitting process, government
had a direct role to play in protecting children and determining what
work opportunities were safe and appropriate. In doing so, government
created a cautionary environment where children's rights were
prioritized over work.
In defense of reducing child labour standards, Minister Graham Bruce
claims that many employers were breaking the law and hiring children
under 15 without a permit anyway. This explanation poses questionable
logic: many motorists disobey stop signs, is removing stop signs the
solution to breaking the law ?
These changes end over fifty years of direct government oversight of
children in the workplace. Now, employers are only required to obtain a
parent's consent, that's a parent--only one--to hire a child under 15.
It's the parents' responsibility, Bruce claims, to make sure that work
is right for their child. While it is surely true that most
parents would never knowingly put their child in harm's way, it is also
true that most parents do not have access to in-depth knowledge and
training needed to assess worksite safety.
A startling example of this occurred several years ago when an
employment officer visited a butcher shop to assess whether job related
tasks were safe for a young teenage boy. On the site, the officer
discovered that while the boy could easily enter the walk-in-freezer,
he was not strong enough to operate the internal lever to exit the
freezer. In this instance the boy's parents had already consented to
his employment, highlighting the fact that many well-intentioned
parents simply don't know what questions to ask and how to ensure their
child is doing tasks suitable to ability and maturity.
Now, BC parents will be on their own when it comes to protecting their
child's best interests in the workplace. Minister Bruce asserts that
new regulations protect children. It is hard to imagine that any
reasonable person would interpret these regulations as
protections. Children, between 12 and 15, can work up to four
hours on a school day. When added to school time, that turns into
a 10 hour workday, before homework or extra activities. On
non-school days, children can work seven hours. In some
circumstances, the Branch may waive those limits. Educators have been
removed from the process and children do not need permission from
school authorities to work.
Even more troubling: there are no prohibited occupations under the new
system. Unlike our neighbours in Alberta and Washington, BC regulations
do not list jobs that are obviously unsuitable for developing children
including operating machinery or tasks that require strength or mature
Bill 37 is the legislation behind this and was enacted without
consulting the many organizations and individuals who expressed serious
concerns about the dangers of loosening restrictions on hiring
children. While the rest of the world is implementing United Nations
recommendations for more restrictions on child labour, BC is marching
in the opposite direction.
Bill 37 puts children at risk as never before. It violates the
government's responsibility to its younger citizens and puts its own
agenda of deregulation before the health and safety of the most
vulnerable members in our society.
Editorial Note: This
commentary was rejected by the Global Canwest media outlets, including
the Vancouver Sun and Province.