Child labor is not the prerogative of developing countries. In Quebec, there is no minimum age. Under the age of 14, simple written permission from parents is sufficient to find themselves behind a cream counter, in the kitchen of a restaurant, or in front of customers serving food and drink.
Particularly lax legislation and supervision of minors, which is not always strict. “Nothing prevents an 11-year-old from working in a fast food restaurant where there is fried food and therefore there is a risk of getting burns. They are not always framed and there is not necessarily an inspector to control”Roxanne Laroche, National Representative for the United Food and Trade Workers Union (Tuac Canada), regrets. Only a few procedures regulate the work of minors.
Employers must ensure that their very young employees do not miss school and must ensure that they can be home from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. The work must also be adapted to their physical and intellectual capabilities.
Huge shortage of labor
But in reality, an increasing number of children and teens work in retail, fast food and food businesses. The employment rate for miners exceeds 50% in Quebec. A number that can be revised upwards, because Statistics Canada data only start counting from the age of 15. Meanwhile, burns, cuts or falls at work by people under 16 years old doubled between 2018 and 2021, from 85 to 203, according to Standards, Equity, and the Commission on Occupational Health and Safety (CNESST). Over the years, this phenomenon is gaining momentum.
Jobs that do not require special skills or intensive studies and have demanding schedules are offered to children. Roxanne Thrones, Syndicate
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, which has precipitated many retirements and prompted some workers to leave unfilled jobs, Quebec has suffered from a massive labor shortage. The Canadian province recorded its lowest unemployment rate ever with 3.9% in 2022. This situation is pushing companies into child labour. “Youth work has become the norm. This labor shortage affects all sectors. Jobs that do not require special skills or intensive studies and that require hard hours are offered to children.Syndicate Roxanne Laroche explains.
The debate stopped for thirty years
This agitation raises ethical and moral questions. According to a 2017 Quebec survey on youth health in high schools, students who hold a job during the school year are more likely to present a high level of psychological distress. However, in Quebec, as in Canada as a whole, few voices are being raised against child labor. On May 31, Minister of Labor and Employment Jean Boulet was forced to comment on the topic after several children were injured on the job. Describe this phenomenon rudely “Not normal” He promised to solicit the opinions of trade unions and employer associations to open the door to new legislation.
Since the 1990s, the Commission on Human Rights and Youth Rights of Quebec (CDPDJ) has been calling for the province to adopt a new law requiring children to be unable to work before the age of 16. The commission’s representatives are drawn to the example of British Columbia, a province in the west of the country, where the minimum working age has been raised from 12 to 16.
For thirty years, the child labor debate has remained a dead end. “The strange thing is that there is no national mobilization, civil or political, on these issues.”, Susan Arben, vice president of CDPDJ, regrets. In April, several cases of child injury at work were the subject of press articles without any dispute Neither in the political class nor among the populationshe wonders. It is as if people have closed their eyes. They tell themselves that it can’t really happen at home. It is unreasonable for a child to be injured because he is carrying heavy loads.” .
Provincial elections will be held in October, and the CDPDJ vice president hopes a bill will be introduced to prevent the employment of minors under 16. For Susan Arbin, that’s a question too “education”. Media work can allow residents to gauge the extent of the problem.