MONTREAL — Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet says the government will review the laws governing working conditions for children because of a reported increase in child labour across the province — and in the number of kids getting hurt on the job.
Boulet says he mandated a committee to look into reports that an increasing number of children aged 11 to 14 were joining the workforce as a result of persistent labour shortages. The committee, composed of major union and employers groups, recommended the government investigate.
In an interview on Tuesday, Boulet said he would conduct an "in-depth reflection on child labour," but he said the government should remain open to letting kids work under certain circumstances. He said, however, that child labour should be viewed as something "atypical."
"I asked my team to make an inventory of all regulations … concerning child labour," Boulet said. "After, I will compare it with legislation in other provinces. We are going to analyze the impact, and then we are going to determine the necessity, or not, to improve our laws."
Unlike other provinces, Quebec has no minimum working age. In British Columbia, for instance, the minimum working age was raised in 2021 to 16 from 12, with some exceptions.
Boulet, however, said Quebec's lack of a minimum working age doesn't mean the province encourages children to toil in unsafe conditions. He said the province has a series of "scattered" laws that govern the work kids can perform.
"There's a regulation … that makes sure you need to be at least 16 years old to drive a forklift, at least 18 years old to do (sandblasting) work … to go underground, it's at least 18," Boulet said. "Child labour is well regulated in Quebec. Everything that is dangerous, that is risky is prohibited."
And yet a rising number of children are getting hurt on the job. The province's workplace safety board said that in 2021, 203 children under 16 years old suffered a work-related injury — a jump of 36 per cent from 2020, when there were 149 injuries. In 2019, 154 kids under 16 were hurt on job, while in 2018, there were 85 injuries reported in that age group.
Safety board spokesperson Antoine Leclerc-Loiselle says "various factors" are leading to the rise in young people getting hurt at work.
"The weeks following hiring are those when workers of all ages are most at risk of injury," he said in a statement Wednesday. "Young people, finding themselves more often in a 'new employee' position, are therefore more vulnerable."
Boulet urged anyone who witnesses a child being poorly treated at work to file a complaint with the safety board. "We will make sure they pay fines," Boulet said about employers who violate the law.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 15, 2022.
Caroline Plante, The Canadian Press