Canada. In Quebec, child labor is still legal

Child labor is not the prerogative of developing countries. In Quebec, there is no age limit. Under 14 years of age, a simple written permission from the parents is enough to find themselves behind the counter at a cream house, in the kitchen of a restaurant or in front of customers to serve food and drink.

Particularly lax legislation and supervision of minors, which is not always careful. “Nothing prevents an 11-year-old child from working in a fast food restaurant where food is fried and therefore there is a risk of burns. It is not always framed and there is not necessarily an inspector to check “, laments Roxane Larouche, national representative of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (Tuac Canada). Only a handful of measures 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 11pm to 6am. The work must also be adapted to their physical and intellectual ability.

Great shortage of labor

But in reality, an increasing number of children and teenagers work in retail, fast food and food businesses. The employment rate for miners exceeds 50% in Quebec. A figure that could be revised upwards because Statistics Canada data only starts counting from the age of 15.

At the same time, burns, cuts or falls on the work of people under the age of 16 doubled between 2018 and 2021, from 85 to 203, according to Standards, Equity, Health Commission. and occupational safety (CNESST). Over the years, this phenomenon is gaining momentum.

Jobs that do not require special skills or extensive study and that have cumbersome schedules are offered to children. Roxane Larouche, unionist

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, which has accelerated many retirements and caused some workers to leave unfulfilled jobs, Quebec has suffered from a major labor shortage. The Canadian province is recording its lowest unemployment rate ever at 3.9% in 2022. This situation is forcing companies to put children to work. “The work of the very young is becoming the norm. This shortage of labor is affecting all sectors. Children are offered jobs that do not require special skills or extensive study and that have cumbersome hours.explains trade unionist Roxane Larouche.

A debate stalled for thirty years

This leverage raises ethical and moral issues. According to a 2017 Quebec study on the health of high school teens, students who have a job during the school year are more likely to present with a high level of mental illness. But in Quebec, as in Canada as a whole, there are only a few voices rising against child labor.

On 31 May, Jean Boulet, Minister of Labor and Employment, was forced to speak on the subject after several children were injured at work. He soberly described the phenomenon as “not normal” and promised to obtain opinions from trade unions and employers’ associations to open the door to new legislation.

In April, several cases of children being injured at work were the subject of articles in the press, without causing any controversy.

The Commission for the Rights of the Person and the Rights of the Youth in Quebec (CDPDJ) has been advocating since the 1990s for the province to pass a new law requiring a child not to work until he or she reaches the age of 16. Representatives of the commission keep the example of British Columbia, a province in the western part of the country where the minimum age for working has been raised from 12 to 16 years.

For thirty years, the debate over child labor has stalled. “Incredibly, there is no national mobilization, either civic or political, around these issues”apologizes to Suzanne Arpin, Vice President of the CDPDJ.

In April, several cases of children being injured at work were the subject of press articles without causing any controversy. »Neither in the political class nor among the populationshe wonders. It’s as if people closed their eyes. They tell themselves that it can not really happen at home. That it is inconceivable that a child can be harmed because it carries heavy burdens ” .

The provincial elections will be held in October, and the Vice President of the CDPDJ hopes that a bill will be introduced to prevent the employment of minors under 16 years of age. For Suzanne Arpin, that is also a question “education”. Information work could give the population the opportunity to measure the extent of the problem.

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