British Columbia’s Ministry of Labour has proposed new legislation aimed at protecting children and youth from dangerous workplaces by significantly raising the legal working age.

Amendments to B.C.’s Employment Standards Act also focus on supporting workers whose rights have been violated.

“When you have a problem at work, you deserve to have your voice heard and your problem solved. You deserve to get the full pay you’ve earned. And you should be able to take the time you need to find the safety you need when you’re at risk from domestic violence,” said Harry Bains, Minister of Labour.

“These are the kinds of protections British Columbians have told us they want and that we’re proud to deliver.”

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The Act was last updated in 2003, with changes that left some workers vulnerable to workplace violations and put children as young as 12 years old at risk of incurring workplace injuries.

This legislation will broadly raise the age a child may work from 12 to 16, and will place tough restrictions on the type of hazardous work that 16-18 year olds can be asked to perform.

It does, however, provide an exemption through which 14-15 year olds are allowed to perform light work that is safe for their health and development (such as stocking shelves at a grocery store).

Further changes

The legislation is based on the BC Law Institute’s report on the Employment Standards Act which makes 71 recommendations for changes to the Act to address contemporary and evolving circumstances in the 21st-century workplace.

The proposed amendments address four priority areas of employment standards:

  • protecting children and youth from dangerous work,
  • making it easier for workers to get help when they feel their rights have been violated,
  • providing more job protection to people dealing with difficult personal circumstances,
  • ensuring people are paid the wages they are owed, and that those that violate the law do not have an unfair economic advantage.

Changes to the new legislation would provide up to 10 non-consecutive days of unpaid job-protected leaves for workers trying to escape domestic violence, so they can look for a new home, go to medical appointments, etc.

The legislation also creates a new unpaid job-protected leave for those caring for critically-ill family members that will align with federal employment insurance benefits, allowing workers to take up to 36 weeks to care for a critically ill child and up to 16 weeks to care for an adult.

For workers who rely on tips for income, the amendments prohibit employers from withholding tips or other gratuities, deducting amounts from them, or requiring them to be turned over to the employer.

Click here to read the BC Law Institute’s report and recommended changes of the Employment Standards Act.