Editor’s note: This is an editorial written by Graham Bruce, B.C.’s Minister of Skills Development and Labour, on the province’s new employment standards for young workers. The new standards have drawn criticism from some groups — including the B.C. Teachers’ Federation — for putting children at risk.
e are very fortunate to live in a province and a country where all children have the opportunity to go to school and not be exposed to the kinds of working conditions seen in many other parts of the world.
There are currently 160,000 young people in British Columbia who are between 12 and 15 years old, and many of them are working in family businesses, working on farms, working in fall fairs, working throughout British Columbia.
In the past, employers had to get permission from school officials and the government to hire a student 12, 13 or 14. These permits were almost always approved, but sometimes delays in processing around 300 applications each year could mean a young person missed a job opportunity.
We know there are far more than 300 youngsters working than have been issued permits, and we want to make sure they’re well protected. So we are changing the rules to better focus on protecting these young employees by returning responsibility for deciding whether a youngster goes to work to that person’s parents.
It’s the parents’ responsibility, not government’s or that of school officials. Simply put, if parents feel that a youngster is better off not working, that is what will happen. Those who purport to protect youth by criticizing these changes are actually misleading the public through their inaccurate accusations that government is giving up its responsibility for young workers.
Nothing is further from the truth.
A new Employment Standards regulation puts the onus on employers to make sure they live up to the rules and regulations so that young people in the workplace are protected. This includes ensuring that the employer has written consent from the parent or guardian and that the young worker is under the direct, immediate supervision of an adult.
As well, our regulation makes it clear that no youngster may work during school hours. If a student works during the school week, it can only be up to four hours a day to a maximum of 20 hours per week. When school is out, it’s up to seven hours a day (unless the director of employment standards gives prior written approval) and a maximum of 35 hours per week.
These rules are backed up with mandatory penalties. Any employer who steps across the line faces a first fine of $500. If that repeats, it’s $2,500. If it happens a third time, it’s $10,000.
Occupational health and safety concerns continue to be addressed by the Workers Compensation Board. For the WCB, a lack of experience and maturity means there is a greater obligation on supervisors and employers to make sure the workers are not a risk to themselves or their co-workers.
This government does not just rely on penalties to ensure employment standards rules are obeyed. Staff in my ministry are also working proactively with industry to educate employers and employees on the rules. In addition, this government has put specific focus on the restaurant and agricultural sectors where there’s a high turnover of employees.
There will also be different rules for children working in B.C.’s film and television industry. In fact, we’ll have the highest standards in Canada to protect young performers and our rules will closely match those in our competing jurisdictions — Hollywood and New York. We are serious about protecting all employees but especially the most vulnerable.
For nearly 50 years, young people have been permitted to work legally in B.C. – whether for spending money or to buy a bike, trading cards, that special gift or to save for a car. In fact, there would be few adults today who didn’t have their first job by the time they were 15.
Many will recall their first job and the opportunity it afforded in gaining experience for later years.
Graham Bruce is the Minister of Skills Development and Labour for British Columbia. For more information, visit www.gov.bc.ca.