B.C. minimum working age to increase from 12 to 16

The increase aims to protect the youth from lifelong injuries and unsafe work environments

The minimum working age in BC is set to increase from 12 to 16. (Submitted/ First Call BC)

The minimum working age in BC is set to increase from 12 to 16. (Submitted/ First Call BC)

Labour laws in British Columbia are set to change the employment standards for working youth in the province. These amendments include the legal minimum employment age being raised from 12 to 16 years old and specifications for “light work” to be clarified. The new rules will take effect on Oct. 15 with the aim of supporting and protecting young workers from being overworked or exposed to dangerous conditions. 

In July, Minister Harry Bains announced that the province would move ahead to change the Employment Standards Act after careful consideration with over 1,700 young workers, employers, and parents.

“Prior to these changes, B.C. was the only province in Canada that allowed the employment of children as young as 12,” said Bains in a news release

WorkSafeBC data suggests young workers get injured on the job every year with more than $1.1 million paid in job-related disability claims for workers 14 years old or younger between 2007 and 2016.

“Injury rates were occurring in construction, manufacturing, and warehousing jobs. First Call has been advocating for about 18 years to raise the work start age from 12 to 16,” says Helesia Luke, the communications and development manager of First Call: BC child and youth advocacy coalition

“In what we were seeing in the data, that became our motivation — to ensure that kids don’t suffer lifelong injury from jobs they should not have been doing in the first place,” Luke says.

People between the ages of 14 and 15 can still apply for work but require a permit from a parent or a guardian and can only perform light-duty work. 

This includes work at recreation and sports clubs such as lifeguard positions, referees, or golf caddies. Other positions that youth can still apply to are light farm and yard jobs like gardening and grass cutting, administrative and secretarial work, retail work like stocking shelves and cashiers, food service work such as dishwashing, preparing and serving food, non-alcoholic drinks, and skill and technical work like graphic designers, visual artists, and writers. 

Youth aged 12 and above can continue working in a business or farm owned by an immediate family member with proper safety regulations in place. It is still allowed for youth to babysit, deliver newspapers, or perform in live or recorded entertainment.

“It’s a two-fold thing. The employers need to make sure they adhere to the guidelines and for young people to still have time for their studies, like having specific hours on a weekday or weekend and having adult supervision,” says Andrea Sinclair, president of the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils

“Employers are hoping we get the information out to parents because [parents] may not be aware, and they should know the changes. Kids should also know what their rights are,” she says.

First Call and the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils recommend defining what “hazardous” work is and creating a list of hazardous workplaces for youth under the age of 18. 

“Whether it is related to the school-work program or volunteer hours, I believe it is useful [to start working at a young age] for many reasons, more importantly than the money. It is the lessons you learn as you work. Your rights, responsibilities, and the life lessons you learn early on then help you navigate as you go forward,” says Sinclair.