The B.C. government introduced new legislation Monday that will raise the working age from 12 to 16 and put restrictions on the type of hazardous work 16 to 18-year-olds are asked to perform.
Amendments introduced Monday to the Employment Standards Act will provide exemptions that will allow 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds to perform “light work,” such as stocking shelves at a grocery store. The legislation maintains existing regulations that allow children to work in recorded and live entertainment with parental consent.
“With these changes we are moving the minimum age from 12 years to 16 years, and yes those who are 14, 15 years can work at light duty, which will be described through regulation later,” Minister of Labour Harry Bains said, adding that teens under 16 will still be permitted to have jobs like newspaper routes.
According to the government, the improvements are aimed at addressing problems resulting from changes made in 2003, when the B.C. Liberal government reduced the age of work to 12.
The NDP government said this change put the province out of step with international child employment standards.
“Both the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and the International Labour Organization recommend Canada’s minimum work-start age should be 16,” the government wrote in its Monday release.
Currently, the restrictions in B.C. for young workers (12-14) outlined by the provincial government are:
- The parent or guardian has given written permission.
- The school has given written permission.
- The child will be under direct and immediate adult supervision at all times.
- The child will not travel to or from the work site unaccompanied.
- The child will not work near hot surfaces, noxious substances or dangerous equipment.
Young workers are only permitted to work four hours on a school day, seven hours on a non-school day, 20 hours in a five-day school week and 35 hours in any other week, according to the government website. The government does not specify the times at which a young worker can and cannot work, either alone or accompanied.
Bains said WorkSafeBC paid a total of $5.2 million in work injury claims to children 15 years and under from 2007 to 2017. The WorkSafeBC report that outlined injury claims paid to children under the age of 15 tracked those working in primary resources, construction, manufacturing, transportation, warehousing, trade and the public and service sectors, Bains said.
“Working people are the lifeblood of this province and yet our employment standards haven’t always protected them,” he said at a news conference. “We are the last jurisdiction in Canada, I think, that doesn’t comply with international standards when it comes to labour.”
The government said the new legislation will also make it easier for workers to get help when they feel their rights have been violated, provide more job protection to people dealing with difficult circumstances and ensure people are paid the wages they are owed – and that those that violate the law do not have an unfair economic advantage.
“When British Columbians head out to their workplace, they need to know their safety and rights are being protected in law,” Bains said. “We are making improvements that are long overdue – bringing back basic rights and protections that were gutted by the old government.”
“When you have a problem at work, you deserve to have your voice heard and your problem solved. You deserve to get the full pay you’ve earned. And you should be able to take the time you need to find the safety you need when you’re at risk from domestic violence. These are the kinds of protections British Columbians have told us they want and that we’re proud to deliver.”
Here are the rest of the changes outlined in the legislation:
- Up to 10 non-consecutive days of unpaid job-protected leaves for those workers, so they can look for a new home, go to medical appointments, etc. Workers will have a second option that will see them receive up to 15 weeks of consecutive unpaid leave.
- Anew unpaid job-protected leave for those caring for critically-ill family members that will align with federal employment insurance benefits – allowing workers to take up to 36 weeks to care for a critically ill child and up to 16 weeks to care for an adult.
- Government will carry out an engagement process to determine next steps in making improvements to leave for workers escaping domestic violence.
- Establishes a legal framework for regulating tips and tip pooling and protecting workers’ rights with respect to tips and gratuities.
- Prohibits employers from withholding tips or other gratuities from workers, deducting amounts from them, or requiring them to be turned over to the employer.
- Permits tip pooling but specifies that the employer may not share in the tip pool except when the employer performs the same work as workers who share in the pool.
- Extends the recovery period for which workers can recover owed wages from their employer from six months to 12 months – with the possibility of extending the period to 24 months under some circumstances, such as in cases involving willful or severe contraventions of the act.
- Collective agreement provisions subject to the minimum requirements of the Employment Standards Act.
- The self-help kit is being eliminated as a required step before filing a complaint with Employment Standards Branch. The government says B.C. will have an “effective complaints process in place to support fair and objective enforcement of employment standards.”
- The director of the Employment Standards Branch will be required to investigate all complaints accepted for resolution by the branch. The government says this will improve the current process of forgoing needed investigations in favour of speedy resolutions.
- Modernize other service areas, including allowing the branch to waive or raise penalties, requiring employers to inform workers of their rights and requiring licensing for temporary help agencies.
- Government will also augment with non-legislative improvements to the branch, including increased education and outreach, adding multilingual capacity and providing enhanced service delivery to workers and employers with visual and hearing impairments.
With files from CBC and Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press