Quebec bill proposes teens 16 and under work no more than 17 hours a week

·3 min read
Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet says the new rules would keep the province's youngest workers safe. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet says the new rules would keep the province's youngest workers safe. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Tanya Faulds, 16, would get frustrated every time she had to go back to her old employer and remind them she only wanted to be scheduled for 15 hours a week.

"They would always give me more hours, you know, and I never had any time for school and I always had to ask people to pick up my shifts," says the Quebec High School student, who used to work at a McDonald's.

That's why she welcomes a new bill regulating youth employment in the province.

The proposed law, tabled on Tuesday, would limit the number of weekly hours Quebecers 16 and under can work during the school year to 17. In also sets the minimum legal working age at 14 — with some exceptions for jobs like babysitting or tutoring.

Quebec's labour minister, Jean Boulet, says the bill will help protect children from getting injured in the workplace and keep teenagers from dropping out of school.

"Their first job is to be a student," he said, pointing to a study that showed that 31 per cent of students working over 16 hours a week drop out of school.

Secondary 5 student, Felix Turner-Dufour disagrees with the cap.

"Sometimes I do like, over 24 hours a week, and I honestly think we should be allowed to work more if we want to work more, if we want to have financial independence from our parents or save up for like a trip or something," said the 16-year-old who works for the city of Quebec.

He says he's always been able to make time for his school work.

Romy Boutin-St-Pierre/Radio-Canada
Romy Boutin-St-Pierre/Radio-Canada

Minimum working age set at 14

Currently, employers who want to hire children can do so as long as they receive parental consent. The proposed law would change that, setting the legal minimum age to work as 14.

There are exceptions: a child working in the performing arts, delivering newspapers, or in a family business with fewer than 10 employees.

Employers who fail to comply could be fined up to $12,000 for a first offence.

Workplace injuries on rise among young

The bill comes as the labour shortage has put pressure on companies to hire younger workers, Boulet said. That trend has translated into more workplace accidents involving children and teenagers.

According to Quebec's workplace safety board, the CSSST, the number of workplace injuries sustained by children 14 and under jumped from 10 in 2017 to 64 in 2021.

"I come from a rural background. I've lifted haystacks but I've seen a lot of my friends and even myself come out of it with back problems and be affected by it," said Boulet. "That's our imperative, [children's] health, their safety and their academic success."

The minister also points to a workplace accident that happened last June at Village Vacances Valcartier involving a 14-year-old on the job, as the kind of event guiding the bill.

The head of the largest employers' group in the province, the Conseil du patronat du Québec, supports the stricter measures but Karl Blackburn says he's worried about its impact on the tourism and restaurant industries.

"We don't have to put on the shoulders of young people the responsibility to resolve the labour shortage," he said. He said he hopes to work with the government to explore the possibility of exemptions for specific sectors.

Boulet explained to Radio-Canada's Tout un matin that the restaurant industry was included in the bill because it can be a challenging work environment — especially as it pertains to restaurant kitchens and interacting with adults.

"We have to keep in mind the psychological risks for children," he says.

According to him, the impact of the bill on the labour shortage will be marginal.