FLAWED CHILD LABOUR RULES: Children in B.C. Need Greater Protection in World of Work

By McBride, Stephen | CCPA Monitor, December/January 2005 | Go to article overview
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FLAWED CHILD LABOUR RULES: Children in B.C. Need Greater Protection in World of Work


McBride, Stephen, CCPA Monitor


Two years ago, the government of British Columbia made dramatic changes to the province's child labour rules, relaxing the laws and regulations that govern the hiring of children as young as 12. The move roused concern among parents and educators, who worried that children's safety, and their freedom to learn and develop, would be put at risk.

Before the changes, no employer was allowed to hire a child under 15 without first getting a permit from the Employment Standards Branch. The need for a permit gave the branch the opportunity to investigate the workplace, decide if restrictions on the type and hours of work were needed, and whether parental and school consent had been obtained.

Under the new system, all that is needed to hire a child aged 12-14 is the written permission of one parent. The child is required to be directly supervised by an adult at all times. The regulations do not restrict potentially hazardous activities (such as selling door-to-door or operating a deep fryer). They do not require that safe transportation be provided to and from work. And they do not restrict the time of day (or night) a child can work.

To find out if and how these new rules are working, and to get a picture of youth employment in general, my research team conducted a survey of public school students aged 12 to 18 about their work experiences.

The results show that, for many young people, having a job is a positive experience. But the results also reveal some disturbing violations of the rules, particularly for children. Of the surveyed 12-14-year-olds who currently have jobs:

* 70% reported they worked without adult supervision some or all of the time;

* nearly half (48%) reported that their parents had not evaluated the health and safety of the workplace; and

* more than half (58%) reported that their employer did not receive written approval from their parents.

There is little doubt that the vast majority of parents would never knowingly put their child in harm's way. But most parents are not experts in workplace health and safety. They no longer have the benefit of the knowledge and resources that were available under the old system, when the Employment Standards Branch actually had to decide if a potential job was appropriate.

A fact-sheet on the Ministry's website states that parents are responsible for all decisions about their child's employment - but there are no details, guidelines, or suggested resources on how parents are supposed to fulfill their responsibilities.

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