Child and youth advocates say '12 is too young to work'

First Call, a B.C. child and youth advocacy coalition, wants to strengthen the province’s employment standards and improve workplace safety by raising the work start age from 12 to 16 years old.

'They’re being exploited,' says Adrienne Montani, who wants the legal working age raised to 16

Child advocate Adrienne Montani says B.C. needs to re-evaluate its employment standards for young workers and raise the minimum work start age to 16. (Elaine Chau/CBC)

A child and youth advocacy coalition is calling on the province to raise the age at which young people can legally work to 16 from 12. 

"Twelve is too young to work," according to a campaign led by First Call. 

The provincial government lowered the work-start age to 12 from 15 in 2003. 

Adrienne Montani, provincial coordinator for First Call, says 12 is too young to be working in construction, food service, and retail. 

Vulnerable workers

"They're being exploited… when you're 12, 13 or 14 you're one of the most vulnerable workers in terms of you don't know your rights probably, you're not able to assert them, especially if you're working out of necessity," Montani told The Early Edition's guest host Michelle Eliot.

Terms of employment

Currently, the restrictions in B.C. for young workers outlined by the provincial government are:

  • The parent or guardian has given written permission.
  • The school has given written permission.
  • The child will be under direct and immediate adult supervision at all times.
  • The child will not travel to or from the work site unaccompanied.
  • The child will not work near hot surfaces, noxious substances or dangerous equipment.

Young workers are only permitted to work four hours on a school day, seven hours on a non-school day, 20 hours in a five-day school week and 35 hours in any other week, according to the government website.

"We stand out as having the least regulation for 12 year olds and up as for the time of day and the type of tasks," Montani said.

B.C. does not specify the times at which a young worker can and cannot work, either alone or accompanied.

In Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Quebec, overnight shifts are either prohibited or are required to be closely supervised by an adult.

Call for urgency

Montani is calling for the province to step up and re-evaluate the standards for young workers.

She said First Call spoke with B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains, who didn't give a timeline or information of specific amendments but affirmed that there would be changes made.

"We want urgency, kids are being injured now... We're trying to impress upon the minister and his government that changing the standards for children is an urgent matter."

With files from The Early Edition

Read more from CBC British Columbia