BC now has lowest child labour standards in North America

March 4, 2004

(Vancouver) Recent changes to the province's Employment Standards Act mean BC is now the most child labour-friendly jurisdiction in North America. Who's Looking Our for Our Kids? Deregulating Child Labour Law in British Columbia, released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, examines the changes, and concludes that they leave children at serious risk of harm and exploitation.

Employers were previously required to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Skills Development and Labour, as well as permission from parents and school authorities, to employ a child between the ages of 12 and 14. The new rules allow children to work with only the consent of one parent or guardian, and do not include any prohibited occupations or activities (such as using power tools or other heavy machinery, or selling door-to-door). The new regulations also allow children to be employed for up to four hours on a school day to a maximum of 20 hours per week.

Graeme Moore, co-author of the report, was employed for 21 years with the Employment Standards Branch of the BC Ministry of Skills Development and Labour. He says the government's new rules move BC away from proactive child protection. "With the exception of child actors, there is no longer any requirement to inform government of a child's employment, or for proposed work situations to be evaluated," says Moore. "The system is now entirely complaint-driven."

Moore notes that, contrary to initial government claims, under the old system child work permits were routinely turned down due to safety concerns, or granted only after employers and/or parents had agreed to certain conditions.

Helesia Luke co-authored the report with Moore. She says the provincial government's rationale for deregulating the system is seriously flawed. "The government has justified eliminating the permit system by saying that businesses were not obtaining child employment permits anyway. Removing laws to accommodate those who break them is not the way to ensure the safety of children."

"By sending young people into the workforce without adequate regulations, we are putting the future of our province at risk," says Luke "Child employment is moving from being an opportunity to learn or earn pocket money to becoming a source of cheap labour."

Moore points out that a child can now be required to work up to 20 hours per week. "Given that young people are already in school for 30 hours, this would mean a 50-hour work week--before time for homework, socializing, or any extracurricular activities. That's more than most adults face."