Covlin kids cleared to work in family's chicken plant

Two Saskatchewan girls won't have to quit the family farm after the provincial government delivered a compromise of sorts in response to a child-labour complaint against their parents.

Sask. Labour Minister Don Morgan says allowing young sisters to work in plant is 'common sense'

Emma Covlin, 8, weighing and pricing chicken parts in her family's butcher shop on their farm near Endeavour, Sask. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

Two Saskatchewan girls won't have to quit the family farm after the provincial government delivered a compromise of sorts in response to a child-labour complaint against their parents. 

Following an investigation earlier this week, Saskatchewan Labour Minister Don Morgan told the Covlin family — who run a chicken, pig and cattle farm and slaughterhouse near Endeavour, Sask. — that their girls can continue to work inside the farm's small poultry processing plant, though other young people under age 16 cannot.

The farm had been investigated by the provincial Labour Ministry's Occupational Health and Safety Division, prompted by a complaint about underage workers. Sisters Kate Covlin, 10, and Emma Covlin, 8, are involved in every step of the operation, from pasture to fork. The family also frequently employs local teenagers under age 16 in the slaughterhouse.

The girls' mother, Janeen Covlin, was initially told children under 16, even their own, are not allowed to work in the chicken processing part of the farm because of a provincial law that prohibits underage workers in a meat, fish or poultry production facility.

The Covlins' family farm was investigated by Saskatchewan's Occupational Health and Safety Division after a complaint over minors working in the family's processing business. (CBC)

The family received a call Friday afternoon from deputy labour minister Mike Carr reaffirming that the family can no longer employ local youngsters under 16 in the poultry plant, according to the Covlin children’s grandfather, Lyle Olson, who helps run the farm. The farm had been paying wages to three youths ages 11, 13 and 15 for a few hours' work a week at butchering and packaging meat.

However, the Covlins' own children will still be able to work at the farm, called Cool Springs Ranch & Butchery, and in the processing plant.

Labour Minister Don Morgan said the government will treat the Covlins' processing plant as an extension of the family farm, under rules that exempt farm kids in traditional farming operations from many labour laws.

"We think this is a good common-sense solution. We treat the family members as family members. They’ll continue to work," Morgan said.

Olson said he would accept the decision.

"The law is the law," he told CBC News.

Farm falls in grey area

Morgan admitted that the Covlin farm does fall in a grey area of the legislation because it’s no longer a traditional family farm as it has a licensed processing plant and hires outside help for production. 

Janeen Covlin said she was "flabbergasted" at the child-labour investigation. (CBC )

However, the provincial government has chosen to accept the processing plant as part of the family farm. Morgan said that’s because the processing plant is on the family farm location and the Covlins have a strong safety record.

The Covlins say they were unaware of that law and hoped their children would be exempt because it’s a family-run operation. It turns out, that wish came true.

"We got what we were looking for," Olson said.

With files from CBC's Bonnie Allen

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