Alberta teens face unsafe workplace conditions, report says

Many teenagers with part-time jobs in Alberta are doing illegal or unsafe work, according to a new report.

Parkland Institute study finds more than half of teen workers hurt on job every year

Many teens in Alberta are working in jobs they shouldn't be in, getting injured too often and not getting paid what they are owed, says a new report. (iStockPhoto)

Many teenagers with part-time jobs in Alberta are doing illegal or unsafe work, according to a new report.

The Parkland Institute's report — called Illegal and Injurious: How Alberta Has Failed Teen Workers — found that up to 70 per cent of 12- to 14-year-olds in the province are working in prohibited positions.

More than half of all employed teens in Alberta also suffer work-related injuries each year, the research conducted by Athabasca University labour relations professor Bob Barnetson found.

The report also says many working teens routinely face "wage theft" from their employers.

"Like all jurisdictions, Alberta recognizes that young workers are more vulnerable than other employees, and has put in place specific regulations to protect them," Barnetson said in a release.

"The problem is that the rules are frequently ignored by employers, and the complaints-driven enforcement system is failing to adequately protect teens from illegal and unsafe work."

Input welcomed by province

Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson says the government welcomes all input on how the province can make things better.

"We are committed to reviewing workplace legislation and improving it wherever possible to ensure all workplaces are safe, fair and healthy."  

A big part of the problem, according to Barnetson, is that there are not enough spot checks on employers by the province because there are not enough health and safety inspectors.

In 2013-2014, there were only 8,500 inspections for health and safety violations across the province's 154,000 businesses, the study found.

"Compounding the lack of effective monitoring of workplaces in Alberta is the fact that there are almost no meaningful penalties for violations if they are discovered, so employers have little incentive to follow the rules," said Barnetson.

Only four prosecutions related to teen employment have happened in Alberta since 2000, he said.

Character building?

Some adults see the adversities teens face in their first jobs as a character-building experience, the report suggests.

Alex Shavalier, president of the Calgary and District Labour Council, says he doesn't understand that logic.

"How serious does an injury have to be before we take it seriously? And then, you know, is an employer taking money that they're not allowed to take also as a rite of passage," he said.

"Like what do they mean? You know working in fast food might be, you know, your first job, but it doesn't mean that they can do things that are contrary to the law."

The report says the election of an NDP government could bring opportunities to improve working conditions for teens.

The Parkland Institute is a non-partisan public policy research institute in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta. 


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