B.C. revising rules for young workers

Changes to employment standards to take effect Oct. 15

B.C. revising rules for young workers
Starting Oct. 15, the general working age in B.C. will go up from 12 to 16.

British Columbia is bringing changes to the Employment Standards Act to better protect young people at work.

Starting Oct. 15, the general working age in the province will go up from 12 to 16.

Prior to these changes, B.C. was the only province in Canada that allowed the employment of children as young as 12. In some cases, this involved hazardous situations or environments, such as construction sites or heavy-industry settings. As a result, young workers are injured on the job every year, with WorkSafeBC data reporting more than $1.1 million paid in job-related disability claims for workers 14 or younger between 2007 and 2016.

“Work experience can be a rewarding growth opportunity for young people, but it should never compromise their safety,” says Harry Bains, minister of labour. “We know that most employers make safety their top priority for all their workers, and these changes clarify what types of employment are age-appropriate for young workers.”

‘Light work’ allowed

Meanwhile, youth aged 14 and 15 will be able to do many appropriate jobs, defined as “light work,” with permission from a parent or guardian. These include:

  • recreation and sports club work, such as lifeguard, coach, golf caddy, camp counsellor, referee and umpire
  • light farm and yard work, such as gardening, harvesting by hand, clearing leaves and snow, and grass cutting
  • administrative and secretarial work
  • retail work, such as stocking shelves, packaging orders, laying out displays, sales and cashier
  • food service work, such as busing tables, preparing food, dishwashing and serving food and non-alcoholic drinks
  • skilled and technical work, such as computer programmer, visual artists, graphic designer, writer and editor.

Occupations or situations that are now generally treated as unsafe for youth under 16 include:

  • repairing, maintaining or operating heavy machinery
  • places where a minor is not permitted to enter
  • construction sites, heavy manufacturing and heavy industrial work
  • sites designed to retain an oxygen-deficient or toxic atmosphere
  • walk-in freezers or coolers, other than to place or retrieve an item
  • handling substances that minors cannot legally purchase, use or distribute
  • lifting, carrying or moving heavy items or animals
  • using, handling or applying hazardous substances, such as pesticides.

In some cases, children aged 14 and 15 may be permitted to do work outside the definition of light work with a permit from the Ministry of Labour’s Employment Standards Branch.

Younger workers are suffering disproportionately amid the COVID-19 pandemic compared to older workers, according to a previous report from the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The new rules do not prevent children from babysitting or delivering newspapers part time, or students from working in a work study or work experience class, according to the government. As well, the current rules will continue to apply to young performers in recorded and live entertainment. Children aged 12 and above can continue to be employed in a business or on a farm owned by an immediate family member, as long as the work meets the safety criteria set out in the regulation.

Recently, Ottawa announced that, under an agreement with British Columbia, it will invest $3.2 billion over the next five years to help improve regulated early learning and child care for children under six years of age in the province.

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