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Minimum Age Laws in Canada

The Government of Canada has not yet ratified the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 138 on Minimum Age.

Canada has an obligation to ratify this Convention based on its membership in the ILO and its adoption of the ILO “Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.” Today, Canada remains one of only 27 countries which have not ratified Convention 138, along with the likes of India, Iran, Mexico, and Myanmar.

Federal Legislation that does not comply with Convention 138

The Federal Government allows for the employment of children under the age of 17 with the provision that work be “unlikely” to endanger health or safety. Children are not permitted to work between the hours of 11:00 pm to 6:00 am. The vast majority of legislation over employment standards rests with the provinces. Federal employment standards cover approximately ten percent of employees, including children. Employment of children in federally-regulated industries would require permission from a federal Labour Standards Officer.

Provincial Legislation that does not comply with Convention 138

Alberta

Alberta Employment Standards Code permits the employment of 12 to 14 year olds with the written consent of one parent or guardian. The employment of children under 12 is prohibited. Child employees must complete a safety checklist and regulations protect hours of work allowed. For older children between the ages of 15-17 years of age, general restrictions exist on the times of day that may be worked and supervision by an adult is required. Children 12 to 14 years of age may be employed outside of school hours (two hours on a school day and eight hours on a non-school day).

Children may not be employed between the hours of 9:00 pm to 6:00 am. Employment is restricted to four occupations – delivery of small wares for a retail store, clerk or messenger in an office, clerk in a retail store and to the delivery of newspapers, flyers and handbills. Employers are to meet basic safety requirements. Enforcement of employment standards in Alberta is complaint driven. Upon a complaint, an investigation is made by an Employment Standards Officer (ESO). The onus is on the child worker (or through parent and/or guardian) to raise a complaint about working conditions.

How does this Violate Convention 138?

The employment of 12 to 14 year olds in Alberta violates Convention 138. Under Convention 138, the minimum age under Article 2 (3) states the minimum age of employment “shall not be less than 15 years.” This is modified in Article 2 (4) that allows the basic minimum age of 14 years of age for member countries whose “economy and educational facilities are insufficiently developed....” Again in Article 7, the age limit may be reduced further permitting persons 13 to 15 years to engage in “light work”. This work is not to harm the health or development of children or to be prejudicial to school attendance or vocational programs. Under Article 9, all “necessary measures, including the provision of appropriate penalties” are to be taken to ensure effective enforcement of the Convention.

Although Alberta explicitly prohibits the employment of children under the age of 12 years of age, the employment of 12 year olds cannot be justified under the Convention. The Convention permits the employment of 12 to 14 year olds only where the member country has an insufficiently developed economy and educational facilities. This does not apply to Alberta. The employment of 13 to 15 year old children in developed countries is restricted to “light work.” Although light work is not defined, Alberta’s policy of restricting work to the four occupations stated above would appear to meet Article 7 (1).

British Columbia

British Columbia employment regulations permit the employment of 12 to 14 year olds (Section 45.1.) There is also no reference in Part 7.1 as to whether parental permission is a condition of employment. Children under the age of 12 may be employed with the permission of the Director of Employment Standards. The Director may set conditions of employment. The regulations permit a child between 12 to 14 years of age to work up to thirty-five (35) hours a week during a non-school week (Section 45.3 [3][d]) and up to twenty (20) hours a week during a school week (Section 45.3 [3]).

Under the Act, an employer of a child is not to “require or allow the child to work on a school day at a time when the child is scheduled to attend.” (Section 45.3 [3]) However, the Act does permit employers of the child to employ a child labourer for up to four (4) hours a day on a school day or up to seven (7) hours a day on a non-school day (Section 45.3 [a] and [b]). A limit of twenty (20) hours a week of work is set for a five (5) day school week. (Section 45.3 [d]) This means that in school districts where there is a four (4) day school week, employers in British Columbia may legally employ children for up to thirty-five (35) hours a week.

How does this Violate Convention 138?

The British Columbia Employment Standards Regulation violates the age and working hours requirements of Convention 138. Article 2 (3) set the minimum age at “not less than the age of completion of compulsory school and, in any case, shall not be less than 15 years.” An exception is made in Article 2 (4) for members “whose economy and education facilities are insufficiently developed” to set a minimum age of 14 years.

British Columbia’s regulations that permit employment of 12 to 14 year olds and with permission (of the Director of Employment Standards) children under the age of 12 clearly violates Article 2. The Act fails to restrict the type of work for younger children to “light” work, as prescribed under Article 7. Although light work is not clearly defined in Convention 138, Article 7 states the work is not to harm health of development of children or prejudice attendance at school (Article 7 (1) [a] and [b]).

Employment protections are insufficient to ensure younger workers engage in “light” work. There are no explicit protections in the Employment Standards Act regulations for young workers expect for the provision that children are to be supervised by a person 19 years or older.

Manitoba

Manitoba has the most restrictive child labour laws of any Canadian province. Children in Manitoba under the age of 16 may not be employed without a permit obtained from the Director of Employment Standards. The permit must be signed by a parent or guardian of the child. The Employment Standards Code sets out conditions of employment for children under 16 years of age and children under 18 years of age in Division 14 and Division 15 of the Code respectively. Hours of work are restricted to no more than twenty (20) hours during a week of school and no employment between the hours of 11:00 pm and 6:00 am for children under 16.

Babysitting is not covered by employment standards in Manitoba. Employers may employ children less than 18 years of age between the hours of 11:00 pm and 6:00 am as long as they are not working alone. Children under 18 years of age are prohibited from working in a “prescribed industry or occupation”. In addition, penalties exist in Manitoba for talent agencies who fail to obtain a Child Performer Permit from the Employment Standards Branch to employ child performers under the age of 17. The offence is subject to fines of up to $50,000.00.

How does this Violate Convention 138?

Permitting children to work up to twenty (20) hours a week during a school week would appear to be incompatible with Article 7 of Convention 138. Under the Manitoba legislation, employers may employ children anytime outside of the hours of 6:00 am to 11:00 pm. This permits employers to employ children during the daytime hours, including during school hours. Under Article 7 (1) (b) regulations that permit the employment or work of persons 13 to 15 years of age, are not to “prejudice their attendance at school” and to “not be harmful to their health or development” (Article 7 (1) [a]). By this standard, allowing children to work up to twenty (20) hours a week on top of a thirty-five (35) hour school week violates Article 7 (1) [a] and [b]). The twenty (20) hour a week regulation fails to take into account homework assigned to students. Not covering babysitting under Manitoba’s employment standards – a major source of employment income for adolescents – means this category of child workers have no legislative protection in Manitoba.

New Brunswick

Children under the age of 14 cannot be employed in New Brunswick without a permit obtained by the Director of Employment Standards. Children under 16 years of age may be employed for no longer than six hours in any day and are not to engage in work that is “harmful.” Children under 16 years of age may not be employed during the hours of 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. New Brunswick’s legislation (under Section 39 [b] of New Brunswick’s Employment Standards Act) effectively permits employers to employ a child between the ages of 14 to 16 years of age for up to 42 hours a week—a non-school week. During a school week, children between 14 to 16 years of age may be under Section 39 (b) employed for three hours a day or up to 21 hours a week. Section 39 (d) contradicts the proceeding two sections by restricting a total day of employment and school to a total of eight hours a day.

The Act permits children less than 14 years of age to be employed but excluded them from certain categories of work. Children under 14 are excluded from working in an industrial undertaking, forestry, and the construction industry, in a garage, in a hotel or restaurant or as an elevator operator. (It is notable that the list does not include working in the fishery industry or in agriculture— occupations that may entail machine operation or heavy lifting.) Despite these narrow exclusions, children under 14 may still work in these excluded industries if an employer obtains a permit from the Director of Employment Standards. The Director is required to seek the approval of the child’s parent or guardian and the employment activity must not violate the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Children between the ages of 14 to 16 are not excluded from working in the restricted work categories listed above but are not to be employed in work that is unwholesome or harmful to physical, mental or moral health.

How does this violate C138?

New Brunswick’s legislation permits the employment of children under the age of 14 which potentially violates Article 7—which mandates children 13 to 15 years of age are only to engage in “light work.” The legislation excludes certain categories of “heavy work” but is not comprehensive. Farming and fishery work that involve lifting and machinery operation are not in the excluded categories. Excluding some forms of “heavy work” while not specifying types of “light work” for children between the ages of 13 and 15 fails to meet the standard required under Article 7.

Section 39 permits children under the age of 14 years of age to be employed for six hours a day on a non-school week. This means a child may be employed for up to 42 hours a week during the summer vacation period. This would appear to be contrary to Article 7 (1) that permits children to engage in “light work” that is “not likely to be harmful to their health or development.”

Newfoundland

Children under 14 years of age may be employed in Newfoundland and Labrador but are restricted in the type of work they may perform. The type of work allowed is mandated by local regulation. For instance, allowable work may vary by region and consists of “light work” such as newspaper vending or shoe shining. Children under 16 years of age may not be employed without the written consent of the child’s parent or guardian.

Employers may employ children less than 16 years of age for up to eight hours a day on a non-school day or for up to three hours a day on a school day (this may be increased if a school certificate is provided.) Children are not permitted to work between the hours of 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. and there must be a rest period of at least 12 hours between working shifts. The type of employment may not be unwholesome, prejudice the child’s attendance at school or “the child’s capacity to benefit from instruction given at school.”

How does this violate C138?

The employment of children under the age of 14 is prohibited under the Convention except under Article 2(4) where a member has an insufficiently developed economy and educational facilities. Article 7 allows the employment of children 13 years of age in “light work” activities. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the type of work permissible is determined by the regulations of the municipality in which the child lives. It is not possible to assess the regulations of each municipality in Newfoundland and Labrador, however some municipalities may be in violation of the “light work” provision. Permitting children below the age of 14 to work up to three hours a day on top of a regular school day may contravene the Convention. At risk of violation are Articles 1 and 7 of the Convention which emphasizes work consistent with the full mental and physical development of children and stresses work must not prejudice school attendance.

Northwest Territories and Nunavut

The jurisdictions of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut permits children aged 17 or under to be employed in any occupation with some exceptions. Employment may not be detrimental to the health, education or moral character of the children. Children are not permitted to work between 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. without the approval of a Labour Standards Officer. Employment of children in the construction industry is permitted with the written approval of a Labour Standards Officer. Children in a senior secondary education program may be excused from work for a full school term upon approval of a school principal. Children aged 16 to 18 years of age may work in the kitchen of a licensed establishment. In Nunavut, children may work as bus persons or servers in licensed dining rooms but are not permitted to serve alcohol.

How does this violate C138?

Allowing children to miss school in order to work violates Article 7 (1) (b) that states employment is “not to prejudice attendance at school.” Although Article 7 pertains to children between 13 to 15 years of age, the term children in a “senior secondary education program” may capture some children in this age group. Permitting children in Nunavut to work in licensed dining rooms could violate Article 7 by being “potentially harmful to their health or development.” Allowing children to work in the construction industry even in a limited capacity and with the approval (non-parental) may also violate Article 7.

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia permits the employment of children under the age of 14 as long as this work does not interfere with normal, healthy development or schooling. Work hours are limited to not more than eight hours a day on non-school days and no more than three hours a day on school days. Children under 14 years of age cannot work between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Older children under the age of 16 years of age cannot work in the following work sectors—forestry, garages, car repair, hotels and restaurants, theatres, bowling alleys and pool halls or shooting galleries unless working for a family member.

How does this violate C138?

Employing children less than 14 years of age violates Article 2 (4) of the Convention. The employment of older children under the age of 16 years may also be in violation of the Convention. Under the Convention, children under the age of 15 years are to only be employed in “light work” activities. Children who are 14 and 15 years of age under Nova Scotia’s employment regime may work in jobs that are not “light work” as long as they are working for a family member. These jobs include forestry, garages, car repair, hotels and restaurants, theatres, bowling alleys and pool halls or shooting galleries.

Ontario

Under Ontario employment regulations, children under 14 may be employed in most occupations except for an industrial undertaking of any kind. Children under 15 are unable to work in a factory while children under 16 cannot work in a logging operation, in a mine or in construction. Children under the age of 16 may be employed during school hours upon the approval of the Provincial School Attendance Counsellor.

How does this Violate Convention 138?

Allowing the approval of a child less than 16 years of age to be employed during school hours violates Article 2 (3) that states the minimum age “shall not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling...” The age of compulsory schooling in Ontario is 16 years of age. Ontario also does not specify that 14 to 15 year olds are to engage in “light work” they are only prohibited from engaging in certain types of work. This violates Article 7 of the Convention.

Prince Edward Island

The Youth Employment Act of Prince Edward Island permits the employment of children 16 years and under for age appropriate tasks, with adequate training and adult supervision. Children cannot work in employment that is harmful to their health, safety or moral or physical development. Work is prohibited between 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.

Children may work up to 40 hours in any week although the number of work hours is restricted to three hours on a school day and eight hours on a non-school day. Children may also be permitted to work more than 40 hours a week upon approval of the inspector of labour standards. Employment is also permitted in plants processing fish, agricultural or forestry products where there are no toxic substances or equipment or machinery that is potentially dangerous to children.

How does this violate C138?

Prince Edward Island’s legislation fails to give adequate protection to children in the number of hours permitted or the type of work children are permitted to engage in. Allowing children under the age of 16 to work forty hours a week or more (conditional on approval of the Inspector of labour standards) violates Article 1 of the Convention. This article states work must be “consistent with the fullest physical and mental development of young persons.”

Prince Edward Island also permits the employment of children in plans processing fish, agricultural or forestry products in the absence of foreseeable dangers such as toxic substances, equipment or machinery. No reference is made to whether the permissible work is “light work” as enumerated under the Convention. This potentially violates Article 7 that permits children between 13 to 15 years to engage on in “light work.”

Quebec

The jurisdiction of Quebec permits the employment of children less than 14 years of age with the written consent of one parent. Unlike other provinces, Quebec does not require Ministry approval for the employment of children under 14. Regulations for children fewer than 18 years prohibit work that is disproportionate to a child’s capacity or would be detrimental to that child’s education, health or physical or moral development.

Children may be employed in any occupation with the exception of certain construction work, work conducted under water, at an open pit site at the controls of hoisting or moving equipment, or in excavations or trenches. Except for newspaper delivery work, no employer is to employ a child between the hours of 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.

How does this violate C138?

The employment regulations for children in the province of Quebec provide inadequate protections on the type of work they are able to perform. Article 7 stresses that children between the ages of 13 to 15 are to only perform “light work”—the prohibiting of work that would be dangerous does not necessarily exclude “heavy” work or work that would not be regarded as “light work.”

Saskatchewan

Under Saskatchewan’s employment regime the age of 16 was set as the general minimum age of employment. An “absolute” minimum age of 14 has also been established provided those 14 and 15 year old workers fulfil certain requirements. These include: completing a “Young Worker Readiness” Certificate Course (YWRCC) obtaining a Certificate of Completion, providing proof of age, and a written consent from a parent or guardian.

Additional requirements set out that they may not work more than 16 hours during a school week; and work no later than 10:00 p.m. on any day prior to a school day or before school starts on any day. Exemptions include: family business employing only immediate family, the self employed, traditional farming operations, babysitters, and newspaper carriers. If an employer wishes to hire someone under the age of 14 they must request a “special permit” under the Director of Labour Standards. Unlike Quebec, children are expressly prohibited from working on a construction site. Other prohibited work locations are pulp mills, saw mills, wood working establishments, smelters, foundries, refineries or metal processing or fabricating operations among other locations. There are no restrictions on working in the agricultural sector except where the child may be exposed to a chemical or biological substance.

How does this violate C138?

Saskatchewan’s lack of specific protections regarding “light work,” farming, self employment, and family-owned businesses puts the jurisdiction in potential violation of Article 7 (1) of the Convention. The Article permits the employment of persons 13 to 15 in “light work” only if it does not harm their health and development, and not prejudice their attendance at school or other vocational orientation or training programmes. Saskatchewan giving the ability for employers to request a “special permit” under the Director of Labour Standards to hire an employee under the age of 14 directly violates C138.

Yukon

Children under 16 years of age may not engage in paid work unless excused by the Director or Superintendent of their school. Children under 17 years of age cannot be employed in occupations that are contrary to the legislation. Children aged 16 years and above may be employed at a surface mine, except for at the working face. Other prohibitions for children 18 years and below include employment involving the use of a motor vehicle transporting explosive materials or as an x-ray worker.

How does this violate C138?

Yukon’s legislation allowing children under the age of 16 to work if excused by the Director or Superintendent of their school directly contravenes Article 7 (1) of the Convention which only allows persons 13 to 15 to engage in “light work.”

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