New rules governing teen workers are set to take effect October 15, two years after the province asked farmers to provide input on the regulations.
The new regulations give effect to Bill 8, passed in May 2019, which raised the minimum employment age from 12 to 16 years in a bid to protect young workers. Youth aged 14 and 15 can still hold employment with the consent of their parents, but will be restricted to “light duty.” In the case of farming operations, this includes hand-harvesting produce.
The regulation applies exclusively to employment relationships, but the rules governing family members are less clear. Children as young as 12 may be employed on the family farm or a farm business owned by an immediate family member, according to a program expert at the BC Ministry of Labour, “without a permit from the director of employment standards, provided that the work does not involve the specified elements that make the work unsafe for children.”
Situations the ministry says are now generally treated as unsafe for youth under 16 include repairing, maintaining or operating heavy machinery; lifting, carrying or moving heavy items or animals; and using, handling or applying hazardous substances, such as pesticides.
But the program expert clarified that if youth are “simply performing a chore, then the regulation does not have any impact on the situation.”
While the ministry has given greater clarity around what is acceptable for young farm workers, it is now developing a definition of “hazardous work” for 16 to 18 year-olds. It anticipates regulatory
changes later this year that will define such situations.
The changes reflect the input of 1,700 respondents to the 2019 consultation and are largely consistent with guidance from the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association, which encourages farmers to give children age-appropriate chores.
“Family farming and ranching is the lifeblood of BC’s agricultural sector,” said Chelsea Enns and Albert Gorter of Morningstar Farm in Parksville in statements endorsing the new rules. “It’s important to have a balanced approach to employment for young people; a model that allows farm kids to safely contribute, learn the ropes and build a passion for the family business.”