Did you know that in British Columbia, children as young as 12 years old can legally work in virtually any job? And we’re not just talking about babysitting or paper routes, 12 year olds can work in any industry, the most common being food services and accommodation, and many are even working in construction. Many of these children are working in unsafe conditions, their rights aren’t being respected and their education is being affected.
This has been the case since 2003, when Bill 37 amended the Employment Standards Act eliminating the requirement that an Employment Standards Officer determine the suitability of a workplace and issue a permit prior to an employer hiring a 12- to 14-year old. Now a letter from a parent is all that is required. Since the new law came into force in 2004, BC is the only province that does not place legislative or regulatory restrictions on the occupations, tasks, or time of day a child can work.
First Call Coalition is calling for the provincial government to re-establish a minimum work-start age of 16 years old, which would bring us into compliance with the International Labour Organization of the United Nations.
We are also recommending that an advisory committee be struck with key stakeholders including young workers and child rights organisations, and that they use First Call’s BC child labour policy framework as a starting place to determine additional legislation to ensure that work is a positive learning experience for BC’s young people, not a danger with lifelong consequences.
Stay tuned as First Call and union allies develop a campaign to bring this important issue to the public’s attention!
First Call has been monitoring the situation since Bill 37 was introduced in 2003:
- April 2004: First Call wrote to the labour minister expressing our concern with the recent policy change , following up in June with a public awareness campaign, “Everyone Counts”
- October 2009: First Call published What’s Happening to Our Children?: A Look at Work-Related Injury Claims in BC Over the Past 10 Years, examining the startling increase in the number of workplace injury claims by children accepted by WorkSafeBC since BC’s work-start age was lowered to 12 in 2003
- October 2009: First Call met with the Minister of Labour to present the findings in the report and wrote a follow up letter
- 2010 -2012: Correspondence with government continued
- 2012: To better understand the affects of this legislation, First Call undertook research and interview with young workers and produced the report Child Labour is No Accident: The Experience of BC’s Working Children. Premier Clark dismissed the findings in the report and re-asserted the inaccurate claim that parents are in a position to ensure their child’s safety in the workplace.
First Call’s Child Labour Report
As the provincial government was not tracking the effects of Bill 37, First Call decided write a report. Child Labour Is No Accident: The Experience of BC’s Working Children brings together original research through interviews and focus groups and existing studies to examine the consequences of child labour laws in BC. It focuses on three areas of potential impact: health and safety, wages and working conditions, and education. It also contrasts BC with other jurisdictions.
On the eve of publishing the report, we received important new data from WorkSafe BC. Since it was too late to integrate this new data into the report, we have included it as an addendum: Child Labour Is No Accident: Addendum
Key findings of the child labour report include:
- 43% per cent of youth study participants reported sustaining workplace injuries.
- Lack of pay for training is a common experience among working children
- 16% of participants reported having dropped out of school due to their work schedule and/or financial need and 46% reported being too tired and/or not having enough time to complete their homework or participate appropriately at school as a result of working too much.
- Media Release: New Report Reveals Risks Working Children and Youth Face in British Columbia
- Media Backgrounder: “Child Labour Is No Accident: The Experience of BC’s Working Children Media Backgrounder”
- Vancouver Sun Op-Ed, May, 2013: Accident claims for children have skyrocketed with some young people now disabled for the rest of their lives
- Vancouver Sun, May 10, 2013: B.C. shouldn’t return to permit system for working children: Premier Clark
- Rabble.ca, May 13, 2013: Christy Clark’s excuses for child labour in B.C. defy logic and good public policy
The funding for researching and writing Child Labour Is No Accident: The Experience of BC’s Working Children was generously provided by the Law Foundation of British Columbia.