Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Alberta seeks feedback on youth employment rules

The government of Alberta is updating its rules around the employment of minors. After changing the minimum age of employment from 12 to 13, the government is seeking feedback a list of jobs and job tasks considered to be “light work” and therefore appropriate for 13- to 14-year-olds to perform.

This list includes many of the jobs that these workers have historically been permitted to do, such as delivery person, retail clerk, office work, and some restaurant work. This list also significant expands the range of acceptable jobs and duties.

Some of these jobs and duties certainly raised my eyebrows because of the potential for injury: janitorial work, groundskeeping, food preparation, assembly work, and painting. To be fair, the government has gone to significant lengths to place limits on tasks that these workers can do in these jobs. Here are some examples:
  • assembling food orders (i.e., washing, gathering, presenting, portioning and wrapping foods) using manual tools and appliances typically found in a home such as toasters, blenders, microwave, coffee machine/grinder.
  • light janitorial - Excludes the use of commercial/industrial gas/propane motorized heavy equipment (i.e., floor burnisher, wax/polish machines) and harmful substances defined as hazardous. 
  • weeding, planting and watering, and grounds keeping without the use of gas- powered equipment (i.e., all lawn mowing equipment, snow blowers, leaf blowers, weed-wackers). 
  • light assembly (no cutting torches, welding or working with hazardous substances) 
  • painting with environmentally friendly substances (no commercial spray painting) 
A key assumption embedded in this list of excluded tasks is that employers will obey the rules once the workers are in the workplace. I’m skeptical because the evidence we have is that employers don't obey the rules around young workers.

The deadline for feedback is June 29, 2018 and the government expected to enact regulations for September 1, 2018. One political effect of this timing is that few workers and employers will be affected by the new laws prior to the expected spring 2019 election.

-- Bob Barnetson

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