Too young for the job (Editorial)

Canada needs guidelines to protect young workers and those who work the late shift

Brigitte Serre was murdered at work in the early hours of Jan. 25. She was only 17 years old when she was stabbed to death while working her first midnight shift alone at a Shell gas bar and convenience store in Montreal.

There was a surveillance camera and a locked night-payment wicket, and Shell was abiding by Quebec law regarding legal employment age. But someone talked Brigitte into opening the door and she paid with her life. Police immediately began hunting for a former employee and a group of others.

If Brigitte lived in Alberta she would never have been allowed to work that shift. Provinces have been slowly, and individually, changing laws about late-shift work in retail and food outlets. Manitoba and New Brunswick now require employers to have at least two employees working a late shift.

It’s past time for all provinces to set safety standards for late-night work.

Alberta’s employment standards regarding youth serve as a good starting point for all jurisdictions to adopt. In Alberta young people aged 15 to 17 are banned from working between midnight and 6 a.m. in certain jobs: places that sell food or drinks, retail stores, gas stations and hotels and motels. And if they work past 9 p.m. they must be in the presence of another employee who is at least 18 years old.

Young people can work in other occupations after midnight, but only if they have parental consent and another employee who is at least 18 years old is present.

Businesses that want to stay open in the dark and dangerous hours of the night should be required to consider both employee age and the number of staff working. But it doesn’t stop there. Ensuring people get home safely should be part of the bargain.

This past summer, Ottawa teenager Jennifer Teague was murdered walking home at 12:30 a.m. after her late shift at a Wendy’s restaurant ended. Jennifer was only 18 years old.

Going home alone at night should be a concern for companies that burn the midnight oil. And while young women make easy targets for violent criminals, older staff also need protection. Taxi chits and drives home should be part of the cost of doing business in the dark, and many firms do just that.

Safe rides home, more than one person on staff and minimum ages for people working late shifts must be built into human resources policies.

But voluntary standards are not enough. Government action is required.

A nation as affluent as Canada should lead the way in establishing guidelines for the safety of employees working late shifts. As it stands now too many people like Brigitte and Jennifer are at risk.

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