What you need to know about child labour in BC

August 11, 2018

Written by Adrienne Montani, the provincial coordinator of First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition.

Did you know the work-start age in BC is twelve? First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition commissioned a public opinion survey  in June and found that only six percent British Columbians could correctly identify the age at which a child can be formally employed without the need for a government permit.

We’re not talking about babysitting or raking grass. Twelve year-olds can work in most industries, the most common being food services and accommodation, but many are working in construction, manufacturing and resource-based jobs. We know this because these are the places they are getting injured.

Here’s what else we know:

  • New data from WorkSafeBC shows that each year over the past decade children under fifteen were injured on the job seriously enough for WorkSafeBC to pay out tens of thousands of dollars in injury claims. These claims do not include health care or rehabilitation costs.
  • A cross-sector panel of lawyers reviewing BC’s Employment Standards Act recently agreed that BC has the lowest standards in North America and that the safety of children and youth should be a priority. Here’s what they said:
    • “The province stands out in allowing young workers between twelve and fourteen to engage in virtually any form of work without regulatory authorization.”
    • “The jobs that twelve to fifteen to twelve year-olds in British Columbia are permitted to do extend to potentially hazardous forms of work such as construction, from which they are barred in neighbouring provinces and most of North America.”
  • In 2016, the Canadian government ratified the International Labour Organization’s Convention 138. Countries that ratify Convention 138 must set a minimum age for employment. Canada committed to sixteen years of age and agreed to prohibit hazardous work for those under eighteen. Clearly, BC is not in compliance with this commitment that was enacted in June 2017.

British Columbians support better protection for children and youth. In our poll we asked what participants thought the work-start age should be and more than fifty percent said it should be fifteen or sixteen ages that support international standards and Canada’s commitment to  sixteen.

We also found that the great majority (78%) of BC residents would support the introduction of legislation to provide greater regulation of the employment of children aged twelve to fourteen years, including almost half (47%) who would strongly support it.

We need a gradual, safety-focused approach to work entry that protects the health and well-being of children and youth and supports them to focus on education. First Call has been working on this issue for well over a decade and we’re prepared with recommendations for a sensible legislative and regulatory framework.

It’s time to modernize provincial employment standards and recognize the vulnerabilities of children and adolescents. Twelve is too young to work at jobs meant for adults.

And as it turns out, most British Columbians agree.

You can support changes to BC’s child employment laws by participating in the Law Institute of BC’s public online survey by clicking here.