The British Columbia government is changing employment standards to protect children on the job after WorkSafeBC paid a total of $5.2 million in work injury claims to children 15 years and under from 2007 to 2017.
Amendments introduced Monday to the Employment Standards Act would also prevent workers who are fleeing domestic violence from losing their jobs and ensure that service workers are entitled to keep their tips.
Labour Minister Harry Bains said the amendments are the most significant update to the act in 15 years and addresses concerns about changes introduced by the former Liberal government in 2003.
The amendments would broadly raise the age a child may work from 12 to 16, and restrict the kind of hazardous work 16 to 18 year olds can be asked to perform.
“With these changes we are moving the minimum age from 12 years to 16 years, and yes those who are 14, 15 years can work at light duty, which will be described through regulation later,” said Bains, adding that teens under 16 will still be permitted to have jobs like newspaper routes.
The WorkSafeBC report that outlined injury claims paid to children under the age of 15 tracked those working in primary resources, construction, manufacturing, transportation, warehousing, trade and the public and service sectors, Bains said.
“Working people are the lifeblood of this province and yet our employment standards haven’t always protected them,” he said at a news conference. “We are the last jurisdiction in Canada, I think, that doesn’t comply with international standards when it comes to labour.”
The proposed amendments would also protect workers dealing with difficult personal issues and help people receive wages they are owed.
The changes include expanded work-leave protections for workers trying to escape domestic violence that allows time from their jobs to find the solutions they need to make life safer for themselves and their kids, said Bains.
Employers could no longer withhold tips
The proposed amendments would provide up to 10 days of unpaid job-protected leaves and allow workers to receive up to 15 weeks of consecutive unpaid leave, he said.
The legislation would also protect the jobs of workers caring for critically ill family members, providing unpaid leaves of 36 weeks to care for a child and 16 weeks to provide care for an adult, Bains said.
As well, he said the amendments would prohibit employers from withholding tips or other gratuities from workers.
“Those are supposed to be their wages,” Bains said. “The money is left behind for the service that they provide to the customer.
Many times employers never paid them, other times they decided how much to be distributed and who to distribute to.”
The government says the amendments incorporate recommendations from the British Columbia Law Institute, the B.C. Employment Standards Coalition, the B.C. Federation of Labour, and feedback from employers and the public.
The B.C. Federation of Labour said in a statement the changes will improve fairness for workers and bring the province in line with international labour standards.
The federation said it welcomed the increase in the minimum age for formal employment to 16, while allowing light duty work for younger workers.
“Employment standards are particularly important for the most vulnerable workers in society, such as women, immigrants, minorities, young workers, and precarious workers,” says president Laird Cronk.