B.C. increasing minimum work age, adding protection for workers fleeing domestic violence

Labour Minister Harry Bains announces changes to the minimum age of workers in B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito.
Labour Minister Harry Bains announces changes to the minimum age of workers in B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

The B.C. government is raising the minimum age of workers from 12 years old to 16 years old and says it will better protect the safety of 16 to 18-year-olds in the workplace.

“We are the last jurisdiction left in Canada doesn’t comply with the international laws when it comes to child labour,” Labour Minister Harry Bains said.

“Right now they are able to work any jobs, mining, construction. We are making sure our youth are protected from dangerous work.”

The province will still be building regulations to determine what is dangerous work for children.

“When British Columbians head out to their workplace, they need to know their safety and rights are being protected in law,” Bains said.

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“We are making improvements that are long overdue — bringing back basic rights and protections that were gutted by the old government.”

The province says the legislation addresses concerns raised after employment standards changes were made in 2003 under the previous BC Liberal government. The government says children as young as 12 were put at risk of serious workplace injuries.

Both the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and the International Labour Organization recommend Canada’s minimum work-start age should be 16.

The legislation provides exemptions that allow 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds to perform light work that is safe for their health and development, including stocking shelves at grocery stores and babysitting.

“We are pleased that these long-overdue changes to B.C.’s child employment laws are being brought forward,” said First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition co-ordinator Adrienne Montani said.

“For the past 15 years, employers have been allowed to hire children for inappropriate and dangerous work and too many of them have gotten injured doing those jobs each year. We look forward to working with government to ensure children’s health and safety is prioritized in the new regulations under this act and to seeing robust monitoring and enforcement of employers’ compliance.”

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The changes are part of a suite of changes put forward by the NDP in Monday.

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The government is proposing up to 10 non-consecutive days of unpaid job-protected leave for workers who are trying to escape domestic violence so they can look for a new home or go to medical appointments. On top of that, the government is carrying out an engagement process to determine next steps in making improvements to leave for workers escaping domestic violence.

The legislation also creates a new unpaid job-protected leave for those caring for critically-ill family members that will align with federal employment insurance benefits. The change would allow workers to take up to 36 weeks to care for a critically ill child and up to 16 weeks to care for an adult.

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Wage recovery is part of the legislation as well. The province is building a legal framework for regulating tips and tip pooling and protecting workers’ rights with respect to tips and gratuities.

The legislation would prohibit employers from withholding tips or other gratuities from workers, deducting amounts from them, or requiring them to be turned over to the employer.

“Workers have no control over the tips. Those are supposed to be their wages. Many times the employers never paid them or would decide how much to pay them and who got the tips,” Bains said.

“The employer will not be able to participate in tips unless they are doing the same work.”

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The legislation also extends the recovery period for which workers can recover owed wages from their employer from six months to 12 months — with the possibility of extending the period to 24 months under some circumstances.

The last main component of the legislation is modernizing the Employment Standards Branch.

The province says feedback from both workers and employers indicate the current process is not working and may even deter workers from filing complaints. The new legislation ensures the self-help kit is eliminated as a required step before filing a complaint.

Bains says under the new rules the province will have an effective complaints process in place to support fair and objective enforcement of employment standards.

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