Labour laws are meant to protect workers from exploitation and to ensure their safety, but closer examination shows that when it comes to teenagers, the laws are not always doing people a favour.
Age restrictions for workers vary from province to province. In 2008, Dairy Queen restaurants in Saskatchewan got into trouble for having 15-year-old staff members, and teenagers expressed dismay at being forced out of their jobs for being younger than age 16. Fortunately, the provincial government modified the law so that 14- and 15-year-olds can now work after completing a worker readiness certificate course. Other provinces require people younger than 16 or 14 to obtain a permit to work or have written parental consent, and rarely are children younger than 12 allowed to work.
But governments have implemented further restrictions for young people who are given permission to work, including limitations on how many and which hours.
While some of these stipulations are likely in young people’s best interests, others are unnecessary. For example, in Alberta, 12- to 14-year-olds are forbidden from working more than two hours on a school day. This restriction would actually hamper total homework time for students with a commute; two-hour shifts four days a week are more disruptive than four-hour shifts two days a week.
Safety should be the focus of labour laws, not the micromanagement of teenagers’ schedules.
Yet there is inconsistency over what counts as safe, particularly when it comes to family-owned businesses and the distinction between chores and work. A family farm in Saskatchewan was recently investigated for hiring children to help butcher chickens. The investigation found that the owners’ children could continue to participate, but other children from the surrounding area could not. If the work is safe for children on their own farm and parental consent is given for other children who want to participate, then one wonders why the government must forbid these other children from doing the tasks.
A rising minimum wage can also stifle youth employment, for those who are allowed to work. All Canadian provinces and territories have now set a minimum wage of $10 per hour or higher.
“Living wage” is commonly cited in support of increasing the minimum wage. The concept is an income that provides workers with enough funds to cover basic needs, such as housing, food, and transportation. However, not all workers support families. Many young workers still live with their parents, yet these young people with little to no experience usually have to be paid the minimum wage rate that applies to adults. This is not exactly an incentive for employers to offer them work.
The law is not just telling employers what they must do; the law is telling citizens what they must not do. Consider a teenager who begs to work for a family friend trying to start up a new, small business. Even if the teenager is asking for a small wage, it would be illegal for her to help out unless she is paid more than $10 an hour.
Some jurisdictions have recognized the consequences of a rising minimum wage for youth. In the United Kingdom, minimum wage rates vary based on age. Those under 18 don’t have to be paid as much as those aged 18-20, and people aged 18-20 have a lower minimum wage than those 21 and older. The United States allows for a 90 calendar day ‘trial’ period, where people younger than 20 can work for a lower minimum wage. In Ontario, if they meet certain criteria, students can be paid 70 cents less per hour than the general minimum wage.
Age rules and a minimum wage can stifle young potential workers seeking either independence or some pocket change. Work experience is key for job seekers, and many teens know this, but the government is hampering their opportunities to get ahead. Provided a child is not forced to work and is safe, why withhold the opportunity to earn money and gain experience?
Hampering young Canadians from having a job is robbing them of opportunity. People should not coddle children until they are of age and then act disgusted when young adults express a sense of entitlement or cannot find a job due to lack of experience. Let’s be more considerate of young people who want to be productive when developing our labour policies.