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Jobs for teenagers might be subject to new restrictions Add to ...

Bill Allen is a more than a little worried the New Brunswick government is considering making some major changes to its Employment Standards Act that could put new restrictions on the amount of time teens can work and how young they can be to work at all.

“If the government legislates this as is, there would be a lot of kids in the quick service business we wouldn’t be able to employ,” says Mr. Allen, who owns five Swiss Chalet and Harvey’s restaurants, and one Big Stop Travel Plaza in the Maritimes.

Mr. Allen says teenagers make up approximately 10 per cent of his work force. The potential changes, which were outlined in a September discussion paper produced by the government’s Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour, include prohibiting teens under the age of 16 from working in restaurants and other restricted industries, and limiting the working hours for 16– and 17-year-olds. The province has a list of restricted industries in the Act intended to protect teens by preventing them from working in industries that have a higher likelihood of affecting a young person’s safety and/or development.

Currently in New Brunswick, teens under the age of 14 are prohibited from working in certain industries, including restaurants, and anyone under the age of 16 cannot work more than six hours a day or for more than three hours on a school day.

The New Brunswick government’s review of the Act has been sparked in part by Ottawa’s ratification of the International Labour Organization’s Convention 138. The international treaty wants to eliminate child labour and ensure children don’t leave school early to work full time. Countries that ratify the convention must set a minimum age for employment of at least 15 years and prohibit hazardous work for young workers under the age of 18. The convention comes into effect in June of 2017.

This could open the debate across Canada – as it’s done in New Brunswick – about jobs for teenagers. The province does not have a maximum number of hours older teens can work during school and non-school weeks. The rules vary across Canada. For example, in British Columbia, teens under 16 years of age can work a maximum of 20 hours per school week and 35 hours during a non-school week. But in Ontario, the maximum number of hours a teen can work is 48.

The issue is familiar ground for Jorgen Hansen, an economics professor at Concordia University in Montreal. In 2008 he wrote a research paper that found students between the ages of 15 and 16 that worked more than five hours per week during school got poorer grades than those who didn’t.

Mr. Hansen is convinced working more than five hours per week while going to school doesn’t mix well for anyone 16 years of age and younger. “It takes time away from homework and things that would help them succeed in school,” he says. “I have a teenage son myself. I see the amount of time he has to do homework. It’s not a lot. If he worked five to 10 hours a week, I think it would impact his school work.”

Marc-David Seidel, an associate professor with the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, doesn’t share Hansen’s views. In 2014 he co-authored a study that looked into how having a part-time job as young as 15 affected employment later in life. “Based on our research, getting some part-time work experience when you are 15 seems to set you up for a more successful and satisfying career later on,” Mr. Seidel says.

He does say if teens work too much it can have a negative impact, but the threshold is surprisingly high. His research found on average working up to as much as 33 hours per week during the school year and up to 43 hours a week during the summer is beneficial for teens 15 years of age and older. He says they also found no evidence in their data that teens with part-time jobs wouldn’t have enough time to focus on school or extra-curricular activities and were more likely to drop out of school to work full time.

The New Brunswick government held a four-week consultation period after it released its discussion paper. Labour Minister Donald Arseneault would only comment on the matter in a prepared statement. He says department staff are analyzing and reviewing the feedback they got during consultations.

“Public input on our proposals is critical to ensure that we achieve the right balance in addressing employer and employee rights and responsibilities,” Minister Arseneault said in the statement. The department hasn’t given a timeline for when it might make any changes to the Act, other than to say it will take the “appropriate time” to consider the feedback it’s received.

Mr. Allen is hoping his government leaves well enough alone. He thinks that if many of the recommendations in the discussion paper are adopted, not only will his businesses be unable to access a valuable labour pool but it will deny many New Brunswick teens a chance to gain needed work experience. “This line of work is often their first exposure to being part of a team and being accountable. It’s a great opportunity,” he says.

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