New changes to employment standards will better protect young people at work by raising the general working age in British Columbia from 12 to 16 and defining the types of jobs appropriate for those under 16.
These new rules bring British Columbia in line with international standards for children’s employment. They will come into force on Oct. 15, 2021, to allow employers and children who are already working to adjust to the new requirements.
“Work experience can be a rewarding growth opportunity for young people, but it should never compromise their safety,” said 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.”
These changes to the Employment Standards Act were initiated through legislation in spring 2019. Consultations were held with more than 1,700 youth, parents and employers from multiple sectors prior to finalizing the changes this year.
Youth aged 14 and 15 will be able to do many appropriate jobs, defined as “light work,” with permission from a parent or guardian. 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.
Examples of light work appropriate for 14 and 15 year olds 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; and
- skilled and technical work, such as computer programmer, visual artists, graphic designer, writer and editor.
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. 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.
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 is also underway to define “hazardous work” for 16 to 18 year olds, with regulatory changes expected later this year to bring the legislation into force.
“We are committed to protecting B.C.’s workers of all ages from unsafe working conditions and unfair labour practices,” Bains said. “And we are improving B.C.’s employment standards to reflect the evolving needs of our workplaces. I look forward to continuing that work.”
The regulations have also narrowed the employment standards exclusion for home-care workers and babysitters who provide care to an adult or a child in a private residence. This change ensures that caregivers who provide care averaging more than 15 hours per week will have the protections under the Employment Standards Act, while those providing in-home care and babysitting services for fewer hours can continue to work under more flexible arrangements.
Mark von Schellwitz, vice-president Western Canada, Restaurants Canada –
“In the restaurant industry, we rely on young workers to fill many of the jobs, especially at the entry level. So we welcome this clear direction on what constitutes appropriate employment for them. Restaurateurs want all staff and their families to know that when they join our workforce, their duties will be safe and suitable for their age and experience.”
Andrea Sinclair, president, BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils –
“All parents prioritize education for their children, but we know that a classroom is not the only place of learning. Many families see the value of their teenagers gaining skills and experience through part-time jobs or in a family business. The new guidelines assist parents in deciding which jobs will be safe for their children and assures them that employers will now be informed on what is permitted.”
Chelsea Enns and Albert Gorter, owners/operators, Morningstar Farm, Parksville –
“As farmers, we know that family farming and ranching is the lifeblood of B.C.’s agricultural sector, and we want to encourage and support these multi-generational operations. It’s important to have a balanced approach to employment for young people; a model that allows farm kids to safely contribute, learn the ropes and build a passion for the family business.”
A backgrounder follows.