Youth labour law gets bumpy reception

Each year an average of 150 young Yukoners are hurt badly enough on the job to warrant medical attention or time off. Some are cut. Others end up burned, bruised or suffer back injuries.

Each year an average of 150 young Yukoners are hurt badly enough on the job to warrant medical attention or time off.

Some are cut. Others end up burned, bruised or suffer back injuries.

Many of these workers are students working part-time.

And, while it’s been 12 years since a young Yukoner was killed on the job, two Yukon youth have died at work in other jurisdictions in the past three years.

This is reason enough for the NDP and the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board to push for restrictions on young people working through the Young Worker Protection Act, which received first reading in the autumn of 2008.

Yukon, unlike most other Canadian jurisdictions, has no minimum working age. The bill would set it at 12.

The draft law would also restrict the type of work and length of shifts worked by youth.

From January to March, the safety board held a series of consultations with young workers, parents and employers. Responses are captured in a report tabled in the legislature this month.

Reactions are mixed.

“Man, are we ever wimps in our culture when we think about sheltering kids from life,” wrote one parent. “If they are ready, let them work.”

“Not all parents know about child development,” countered another. “Not all parents know about the willingness of our children to please us, to the point of self-harm. I think it’s good that we have people who are not emotionally involved with their children to put some parameters in.”

Most parents and employers agreed that a minimum working age would be a good thing.

But a significant minority opposes the idea, and nobody agrees on the details, such as what that age should be, what other restrictions should exist, and whether parents ought to be able to trump parts of the law by signing a waiver.

A busy summer tourist season and territory-wide labour shortage means there is greater demand for young workers in Yukon than much of Canada.

How young?

Three-quarters of the employers who completed a survey hired workers under 18. More than half hired workers under 16. Very few admitted to hiring workers younger than 12.

“If the older kids can work but the younger ones cannot, it creates a lot of jealousy,” wrote one employer. “We have [workers] as young as seven and eight who like to do a few odd jobs. They take great pride in having jobs to do and doing them well. It teaches them the value of work, responsibility and also gives them self-confidence.”

There were 87 workers aged 14 or younger reported in a Yukon Bureau of Statistics survey for 2008.

The draft law would prevent employees under 16 from working more than two hours on school nights. Some employers fretted this would prevent them from hiring younger workers.

“This is ridiculous. Our minimum shift is three hours and that’s a pretty common labour standard across the country,” wrote one employer.

“I would rather see a teen under 16 working four hours a night than watching TV four hours a night,” wrote another.

The bill would also restrict workers under 16 from working later than 9 p.m. But this restriction should be lifted during the summer, some employers said.

These time restrictions would not apply to certain jobs, including delivering newspapers and working in restaurants and retail stores.

Many respondents also felt a minimum age should be waived if workers are employed by family.

“[You] can’t stop the child from working at their family business. It would just happen under the table more than it already does,” one employer wrote.

Others objected to a proposed blanket ban on children under 16 working at construction and mine sites.

“You can go work for a mining company, but you’re working in the office,” wrote one employer. “I wouldn’t want a 13-year-old hanging trusses on my house, but if there are jobs a 13-year-old can do for a construction company, he should be allowed.”

Many agreed youth should not supervise other youth. Some observed this commonly occurs at some fast food restaurants during night shifts.

“All the rules are broken, including food safety, without proper supervision,” a parent wrote.

To address this, the draft law would require workers at restaurants, gas stations and hotels who are under 18 to be supervised by an adult beyond 9 p.m. They would not be permitted to work past midnight.

The report also provides a few startling anecdotes from young workers about unsafe work conditions, which clearly violate Yukon’s existing Occupational Health and Safety Act.

One was told to stand on a rickety ladder on uneven ground. Another cleared snow off a steep roof without any safety measures.

Yet another had to stand beneath a heavy load suspended from a forklift in order to reposition materials.

And one was nearly run over by his boss.

“He smoked me with the forklift … It was pretty brutal.”

Contact John Thompson at