New rules to take effect Oct. 15
British Columbia is bringing changes to the Employment Standards Act to better protect young people at work.
Starting Oct. 15, the general working age in the province will go up from 12 to 16.
“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.”
Meanwhile, youth aged 14 and 15 will be able to do many appropriate jobs, defined as “light work,” with permission from a parent or guardian. These 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.
Occupations or situations that are now generally treated as unsafe for youth under 16 include:
- repairing, maintaining or operating heavy machinery;
- places where a minor is not permitted to enter;
- construction sites, heavy manufacturing and heavy industrial work;
- sites designed to retain an oxygen-deficient or toxic atmosphere;
- walk-in freezers or coolers, other than to place or retrieve an item;
- handling substances that minors cannot legally purchase, use or distribute;
- lifting, carrying or moving heavy items or animals; and
- using, handling or applying hazardous substances, such as pesticides.
Earlier this year, WorkSafeBC released a new guidebook to help employers prevent slips, trips and falls in the workplace. It also published its high-risk strategies (HRS) and industry initiatives for 2021–2023, targeting industries and employers where the risks of serious injuries and fatalities are the highest.
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.
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, according to the government. 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.
In spring 2019, the government passed amendments to the Employment Standards Act to ensure B.C. 's employment standards are applied evenly, properly enforced and reflect the evolving needs of workers and employers. Consultations were held with more than 1,700 youth, parents and employers from multiple sectors prior to finalizing the changes this year.
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.
The changes received positive feedback from stakeholders.
“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,” said Mark von Schellwitz, vice-president Western Canada, Restaurants Canada. “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.”
“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,” said Andrea Sinclair, president, BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils.
“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,” said Chelsea Enns and Albert Gorter, owners/operators, Morningstar Farm, Parksville.