12-Year Olds Working in Restaurants - Child Labour as the Alberta Advantage?

EDMONTON - As of June 3, 2005, Alberta employers can now legally hire 12, 13 and 14-year olds to work in restaurants, the Alberta Federation of Labour revealed today. In a quiet policy change, implemented without public debate or discussion, the Alberta government decided to allow for a blanket exemption to the Employment Standards Code for the entire restaurant industry. Previously, a person had to be 15-years old to work in a restaurant.

"With the stroke of a pen, the government has created a new type of child labour in this province. 12-year olds can now serve you your Big Mac, or prepare your salad," says Gil McGowan. "What's next? Letting 10-year olds work on construction sites?"

"It is particularly appalling that a change of this magnitude was made without public consultation, without debate and without notice," McGowan adds.

"Allowing 12-year olds to work in restaurants is not in the child's interest, it is not in the customers' interest, and it is not in society's interest. Kids that young should be doing two things - going to school and playing," observes McGowan. "There is plenty of time in life for working, why are we in such a rush to push children into the workforce?"

McGowan said the real motivation for the policy change is clear - propping up the interests of restaurant operators.

"Restaurant employers are having a hard time finding adults willing to work for the low wages and lousy conditions they offer, and rather than raise their wages, they get the government to create a whole new pool of vulnerable workers."

The old policy prohibited children under 15 from working, except in select jobs such as newspaper carrier or odd jobs in an office or retail store. If an employer wanted to hire an adolescent (12-14), they needed to get a special exemption for that individual from the Director of Employment Standards.

The new policy now allows restaurants to hire adolescents without permission, if they meet certain safety and consent requirements. This is the first time employment standards have provided an industry-wide exemption to the age limit. (A copy of the new policy is available at www.gov.ab.ca/hre/employmentstandards.)

"The supposed safeguards are nothing of the kind," says McGowan. "They are paper tigers that will do nothing to protect these children against abuse, exploitation or danger." McGowan points out the 'requirements' are that the employer must fill out a checklist, and get the consent of the child and their parent.

"A 12-year old is not in a position to defend themselves against employer abuse. They have no way of recognizing a safety hazard, or understanding their rights," McGowan argues. "We have created a situation where young children are being put in very vulnerable positions. It's a recipe for exploitation."

"Is this the Alberta Advantage?" McGowan asks. "Child labour in our restaurants? I don't think this is what Albertans want."

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For more information contact:

Gil McGowan, AFL President at 780.915.4599 (cell) or 780.483-3021 (wk)


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