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July 22, 2010

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First summer job for kids should be a positive learning experience, not a sweat shop

Now that the school year is over, lockers cleaned out and vacation plans made, many students will be looking for, or already working at, summer jobs. Many folks, myself included, likely have fond memories of their first summer job. My first summer job was working at a gas station; others first entered the workforce by delivering newspapers or working in the hospitality industry.

Many of us are still shocked by the BC Liberals’ introduction of the HST after campaigning on a promise not to do so. But many of us may have forgotten that seven years ago the same government changed the law to allow people as young as 12 to join the workforce in BC.

And at the same time the government allowed people go to work at a younger age, it also made sure that those young workers make less than anyone else in the country with the so-called “training wage.” Since the Liberals came to office in 2001, we’ve seen a potentially disastrous combination of sweat-shop pay, “relaxed” regulations, and a massive reduction in workplace inspections by the Employment Standards Branch, all brought in by the provincial government.

And now we’re reaping the results: according to Dr. Paul Martiquet, the Medical Health Officer for the Sea-to-Sky region of BC, citing Worksafe BC reports, between 2005 and 2008 there was a ten-fold increase in accepted injury claims among 12- to 14-year-olds more than 20 percent of 12-14 year-old workers reported no supervision. Dr. Martiquet, writing in the Squamish Chief, also notes that “research shows that 22 per cent of 12- to 14 year-olds in BC reported no supervision while working.” (Emphasis added.) If that’s not shocking, I don’t know what is.

This province is no stranger to heated political debate on just about any subject you can think of. But you would think we could all agree that 12 year-old kids need and deserve a special level of protection from unscrupulous employers. No one should have to suffer an injury—or worse—on the job, but especially not our kids. Apparently the BC Liberals don’t agree.