In Quebec, child labor is on the rise

“Do you want a bag?” » The voice has not changed yet. Theo is 13 years old. He works in a supermarket in southern Montreal. And his case is no exception. There are so many of them that almost no one notices the appearance of the very young people packing errands in the Quebec supermarkets. Convenience stores are hiring a lot of teens right now, says the United Commercial Food Workers union.

Also in catering they are legion. In the middle of the kitchens of a restaurant in Estrie, three little blonde heads serve pizzas and poutines at a steady pace and busy behind the fryers: “It is hot in the kitchen, and it is not always easy when there are many customers, but there are several young people working together. There is a great atmosphere. “ says Béatrice, 14. Pascal Lamarche, owner of La Grande Gueule, makes no secret of it: he has recruited teenagers. “My youngest started two weeks ago and she is 11 years old. A very good worker. »

Written permission from parents is sufficient.

Here, the law does not set a minimum age for employment. It simply asks for written permission from the parents if the worker is under 14 years of age. Schooling is compulsory until the age of 16, but nothing prevents young people from combining college and working outside of school hours.

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For Valérie Costanzo, a lawyer specializing in family law and a PhD student at the University of Ottawa, Quebec law clearly needs to be revised, especially because it violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In Article 32, Member States undertake to set a minimum age for access to employment. “In Quebec, the work of young people has always been valued. But there is abuse. There was a paradigm shift in the 1970s. Children became subjects of rights and not objects. However, there is still a tension: on the one hand the desire to promote their autonomy and on the other hand to protect them. For some, they really want to work early. But in the current situation, what is the real part associated with the will of the children? »

A wave caused in part by full employment

The current situation is full employment (3.9% unemployment in April, the lowest rate recorded in the province), and the associated labor shortages. 240,000 positions are to be filled against 117,000 four years ago. Employers are therefore struggling to close the gaps. Some are dependent on large employment bonuses, others on the very young. The daily The press mentions in particular the board at a McDonald’s establishment in Laurentians, near Montreal, where one can read that one works with fast food “will help your child get hired in his future career”.

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Suzanne Arpin, Vice-Chair of the Commission on Human Rights and Youth Rights in Quebec, fears that these teenagers will be entrusted with increasingly difficult tasks. Between 2018 and 2021, the number of occupational injuries among those under 16 fell from 85 to 203, according to information from the Commission on Standards, Equity, Health and Safety at Work. The public body explains the increase especially with the increasing number of employed teenagers. In 2020, the youngest person injured at work was 13 years old.

A law to be rewritten

For more than twenty years, Suzanne Arpin has tried to influence the law so that the work of completely young people is better regulated, especially by proposing that young people under the age of 16 should not have the right to work, except in special cases. , so school remains a priority.

Apollinaire, a French teacher at a college for teens in difficulty in northern Montreal, is campaigning in the same direction. “The problem is that students who start work early do not stop afterwards. Some because they want pocket money, others because they are used as labor by their families and help pay the rent. There are some I pick up in the morning, they have been working all evening and sleeping in class. » Tyrese, one of the school’s students, acknowledges the work in a warehouse to help his grades fall. “When I receive several hours from my employer the next day, I can not learn anything. »

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