Child Labour in BC

Child Labour Campaign

New in 2018

July 6, 2018

Opinion Survey Finds Most British Columbians Unaware That Children Allowed to Work at 12 Years of Age

Vancouver – A June public opinion survey commissioned by First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition found that only 6% of British Columbians could correctly identify the age at which a child can be formally employed without the need for a government permit in BC.

Survey respondents most commonly assumed the minimum age for a child to begin work without a permit would be 16 years old (34%) followed by 15 (24%) and 14 (20%). In fact, the work start age in BC is 12 years of age.

In 2003, the provincial government lowered the work-start age from 15 to 12 years and imposed only four conditions on employment. As a result, BC has the lowest child-related employment standards in North America and is the only province that has virtually no restrictions on the occupations, tasks, or time of day a child can work.

“We know from data that every single year over the past ten years children under 15-years were injured on the job seriously enough for WorkSafeBC to pay out tens of thousands of dollars in injury claims,” commented Adrienne Montani, First Call’s Provincial Co-ordinator. “As many children and youth begin summer jobs, it’s important for everyone to realize how few safeguards are in place to protect them from exploitation and injury.”

Survey respondents were also asked their opinion about what age a child should be to enter formal employment without the need for a government permit. More than one-third of residents (36%), thought it should be 16 years old. About one-in-five (18%) said 14 years, with a similar proportion (21%) saying 15 years.

The large majority of BC residents (78%) would support the introduction of legislation to provide greater regulation of the employment of children aged 12 to 14 years, including almost half (47%) who would strongly support it. Of those who opposed the idea of new legislation, 15% did so because they feel children of this age should not be working at all.

“It’s interesting to see that most people support a work start age that is in keeping with international standards,” observed Montani. “In 2016, the Canadian Government ratified the International Labour Organization’s Convention 138. Countries that ratify the convention must set a minimum age for employment. Canada committed to 16 years of age and agreed to prohibit hazardous work for those under the age of 18.”

Once again, First Call urges the BC government to protect children by complying with these accepted international standards.

Survey Methodology:

  • 500 residents aged 18 years of age or older from across British Columbia using Mustel Group’s own randomly recruited Giving Opinions online panel.
  • The survey questionnaire was programmed and hosted by Mustel Group, with data collection taking place between June 8 and 11, 2018.
  • At the data processing stage minor weighting factors were applied to ensure the sample’s final distribution of BC residents reflects that of Statistics Canada census data according to age, gender and region.
  • The margin of error on a random sample of 500 completed interviews would be: 4.4% at 95% confidence level in the most conservative case.

Mustel Group Survey Report (June 2018)

WorkSafeBC Data Tables on Under 15 Accepted Injury Claims (April 2018)

Law Institute of BC Employment Standards Act Reform Project Consultation Paper (June 2018) see pages 203-213 “Employment of Children”

List of ILO Ratifications for Canada

Media Inquiries: Helesia Luke | | 604-709-6970 (desk) | 778-858-0553 (cell)


Take Action

First Call is renewing our efforts to protect BC’s children from exploitation and injury in workplaces. We’re undertaking a new campaign to modernize provincial employment standards that recognize the unique vulnerabilities of children and adolescents.

We must, at a minimum, ensure that our laws are aligned to the international conventions to which Canada is a signatory.

We encourage you to get involved by sending a letter to Premier John Horgan calling for him to immediately act on the recommendations in Child Labour is No Accident: The Experience of BC’s Working Children. You can click here to download a letter to sign and send to Premier Horgan’s office.

Do you have a child or youth work related story to share? Please call or email us at or 604-709-6970


In the Media

More than $5 million in disability claims paid to kids 15 and under injured on the job in B.C.
The Vancouver Sun | Glenda Luymes | July 5, 2018

Child and youth advocates say “Twelve is too young to work”
CBC Radio | The Early Edition | July 6, 2018

Should we raise the minimum working age in B.C. from 12 to 16? What should that age be?
BC Today with host Angela Sterritt and Guests including Adrienne Montani, Minister Harry Bains, and Irene Lanzinger
CBC Radio | July 6, 2018
Listen to Podcast

Child and youth advocates say ’12 is too young to work’
‘They’re being exploited,’ says Adrienne Montani, who wants the legal working age raised to 16
CBC News | July 7, 2018

B.C. youth advocates calling on provincial government to amend labour laws
The Lawyer’s Daily | Amanda Jerome | July 10, 2018

B.C. needs better rules to govern youth employment
Adrienne Montani | The Province | July 13, 2018


The Issue

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 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.
  • May 2017: Created a campaign handout on the Child Labour in BC Campaign to provide an overview and background of the issues.


First Call’s Child Labour Report

As the provincial government was not tracking the effects of Bill 37, First Call decided to 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 coverage


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.