In Quebec, child labor is on the rise

“Do you want a bag?” A The voice has not changed yet. Theor is 13 years old. He works at a supermarket south of Montreal. And his case is no exception. There are so many of them that almost no one pays attention to the appearance of very young people who pack jobs in Quebec supermarkets. The United Commercial Food Workers Union says grocery stores are now hiring a lot of teenagers.

They are also an army in catering. In the middle of the kitchen of an Estrie restaurant, three small blonde heads serve pizza and putty at a steady pace and make noise behind the fryers: “It’s not always easy when it’s hot in the kitchen and when there are a lot of customers, but a lot of young people are working together. It’s a wonderful environment. “ Béatrice says, 14 years old. Pascal Lamarche, owner of Guiul in La Grande, does not hide this: he has hired teenagers. “My little one started two weeks ago and is 11 years old. A very good worker. A

Parental written permission is sufficient.

Here, the law does not set a minimum age for employment. If the worker is under 14 years of age, it only asks for written approval from the parents. Schooling is compulsory until the age of 16, but nothing prevents young people from coordinating college and work outside of school hours.

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For Valerie Costanjo, a lawyer specializing in family law and a doctoral student at the University of Ottawa, Quebec law needs to be clearly reviewed, especially since it violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In Article 32, member states pledge to set a minimum age for employment. “In Quebec, the work of young people has always been valued. But there is abuse. An example changed in the 1970s. Children have become a matter of rights, not objects. However, a tension remains: on the one hand, the desire to promote their autonomy and, on the other, to protect them. Because some people want to work really fast. But in the current situation, what is the real part associated with the will of children? A

A wave caused by partial full employment

The current situation is full employment (3.9% unemployment in April, the lowest rate recorded in the province), and the labor deficit that goes with it. 240,000 posts will be filled as compared to 117,000 posts four years ago. Employers are therefore fighting to plug holes. Some rely on big recruitment bonuses, others on very young people. Daily The press Montreal, in particular, has a McDonald’s billboard in Laurentians, where one can read that working in fast food. “Help your child get a job in his future career”.

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Suzanne Arpin, vice-president of the Quebec Commission on Human Rights and Youth Rights, fears that these teenagers will be given heavier jobs. Between 2018 and 2021, the number of occupational injuries among those under 16 fell from 85 to 203, according to data from the Commission for Standards, Equity, Health and Safety at Work. The public body specifically explains the growth by the growing number of employed adolescents In 2020, the youngest person injured on the job was 13 years old.

A law will be rewritten

For more than twenty years, Suzanne Arpin has been trying to influence the law so that the work of very young people is better regulated, specifically proposing that adolescents under the age of 16 have no right to work, except in exceptional cases. , So school remains a priority.

North of Montreal, Apollinair, a French teacher at a college for teenagers, is campaigning in the same direction. “The problem is that students start working early and they don’t stop later. Some reasons they want pocket money, others because their families use it as their labor and help pay the rent. There are some that I pick up in the morning, they work all evening and they sleep in class. A Tyrese, one of the school’s students, works in a warehouse to help lower her grades. “When I take more hours from my employer the next day, I can’t learn anything. A

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