It’s about time B.C. got around to updating its employment standards legislation, especially when it comes to youth working.
Prior to the changes, youth as young as 12 could go to work in mines or on construction sites, with special permission from their parents and the government. Sadly, that wasn’t just an unused holdover in legislation from a bygone era; Labour Minister Harry Bains admitted there were examples of children as young as age 12 working in hazardous sectors, and over the course of a decade, the province has paid out $5.2 million in workers compensation for injuries to children under 15.
In a province and a country that condemns child labour in developing nations, allowing that to happen is unconscionable. The new legislation raises the age to 16, with caveats allowing 14 and 15-year-olds to do light work on the family farm or jobs like stocking shelves at a grocery store.
This is thinking that needs to be applied to the migrant workers brought in under the temporary foreign and seasonal agricultural worker programs. It’s rare for a summer to go by in the Okanagan without reports of pickers, many from Mexico, living in substandard conditions or otherwise having their employment rights abused.
Isolation and language problems, combined with not knowing their rights sometimes makes it difficult for these workers to report the problems. Most growers take good care of their workers and the province does have inspectors, but their needs to be a more active way to ensure standards are being met.
Canada is a country that prides itself on a drive to create a socially just society. Updating B.C.’s employment standards is a great step, but we also need strong enforcement to be sure they are being met for all.
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