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Recent amendments to the laws governing work performed by children in Québec and Canada

In recent years, labour shortages have contributed to a greater presence of children in the labour market, as well as an increase in work-related injuries among these youth.

On March 28, 2023, the Québec Government introduced a bill to amend the current legal framework to better regulate work performed by children and foster school perseverance. Unlike most of the provinces in the country, Québec does not set a minimum working age or maximum working hours for children. It is in this context that the provincial government introduced Bill 19, An Act respecting the regulation of work by children (hereinafter "Bill 19").

Concurrently, on March 29, 2023, the federal government adopted an Order to come into force on June 12, 2023 amending the Canada Labour Code to increase the minimum age of employment from 17 to 18 years of age (the "Federal Order"). Corresponding regulatory changes have been made to the Canada Labour Standards Regulations. These changes are also intended to ensure that the regime complies with the International Labour Organization Convention which states that work that may compromise health and safety should not be performed by persons under the age of 18.

  1. Pre-existing general obligations regarding work performed by children 

    In Québec

Various laws currently govern work performed by children in Québec. Primarily, the Act respecting labour standards (hereinafter the "ALS") provides that a child under the age of 14 who wishes to work must obtain the consent of his parents, in accordance with the principle established in the Civil Code of Québec[1]. In accordance with the Regulation respecting a registration system or the keeping of a register, the employer must obtain a written authorization to work from the parents or tutors and must keep it for three years in a register. The ALS provides that no employer should have work performed by a person under 18 years of age that exceeds that person’s capacity or that is likely to be detrimental to that person’s education, health or development. However, the current regime does not set a minimum working age for children insofar as the restrictions mentioned previously are complied with.

The Education Act provides that a young person of 16 years or under who has no diploma must attend school and, therefore, cannot work during school hours. They can therefore work mornings, evenings and weekends, but their work schedules must allow them to have reached their homes between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. the next day, a restriction set out in the ALS. The Regulation respecting labour standards (hereinafter the "RLS") allows for some exceptions, for example, children who work as newspaper deliverers or who work in creation or interpretation in the fields of artistic endeavor such as performing arts and theatre.

In addition, the Act respecting occupational health and safety (hereinafter the "AOHS") grants the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (hereinafter the "CNESST") authority to fix the minimum age to carry out particular work through regulations. This restriction applies in particular to certain tasks such as underwater diving, blasting and chain saw handling.

        At the federal level

At the federal level, the Canada Labour Code states that a person under 17 years of age may only perform an occupation specified by the regulations and is subject to the conditions fixed by the regulations for employment in that occupation.

The Canada Labour Standards Regulations provide that a person under 17 years of age may work in a work environment under federal jurisdiction if the work performed is not on the list of hazardous work, including underground mines and other work that is not likely to be injurious to their health or to endanger their safety; the person is not required, under the law of the province to be in attendance at school[2]. Moreover, that person cannot work between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. on the following day. In addition, employers are required to keep records of the age of employees under 17. 

  1. Current issues

In response to the lack of developments in the legislation governing work performed by children in Québec, the Comité consultatif du travail et de la main-d’œuvre issued an opinion[3] gathering recommendations from various organizations in December 2022.

This opinion highlights the fact that Québec is one of the only provinces that has not had any reform to its child labour laws since their adoption and urges the government to modernize the applicable laws to reflect current needs. These organizations agree, among other things, on the fundamental principles that must govern the work performed by children, so that their education is not compromised, that working conditions are adapted to their needs and that they aim to respect the rights to the protection and autonomy of children[4].

In addition, the opinion criticizes the increase in injuries among working children ages 14 and 15 and reports that the number of youth work injuries increased significantly between 2012 and 2021: by 392% for those 14 and under, 221% for 15-year-olds and 17% for 16-year-olds. The sectors with the most youth work injuries are retail trade, accommodation, and food services[5].

In addition, at the federal level, a federal workplace survey was conducted[6]. The survey reported that, for the period from 2010 to 2020, employees under the age of 18 have been involved in 67 hazardous situations. Of these, 65 resulted in disabling injuries.

  1. New legislative provisions concerning work performed by children 

    In Québec

In response to this need to update the legislative provisions concerning work performed by children and to provide greater protection for children, the provincial government has tabled Bill 19, which amends the ALS, the AOHS and the RLS and contains transitional provisions. It remains to be seen whether it will be assented, and therefore passed, in its present form. With some exceptions, most of the anticipated amendments would come into force upon assent of Bill 19.

Minimum Working Age: The ALS is amended to fix the minimum working age at 14 years of age, except in the cases and under the conditions prescribed by regulation.

Children under 14 years of age who may work: The RLS is amended to provide that the prohibition to have work performed by a child under 14 years of age does not apply to a child who performs the following work: a child who works as a creator or a performer in a field of artistic endeavour, a deliverer of newspapers, a babysitter, a child who provides homework assistance or tutoring, works in a family enterprise with fewer than ten employees if the worker is the child of the employer, works in a non-profit organization having social or community purposes or in a non-profit organization to assist another person or provide support.

Mandatory form for workers under 14 years of age: The ALS is amended to state that where work for children under 14 is permitted by regulation, the employer of a child under 14 years of age must obtain the written consent of the holder of parental authority on a form established by the CNESST. The form contains the child’s principal tasks, maximum number of hours of work per week and periods of availability. Any modification made to any of those elements must be the subject of new written consent.

Maximum number of hours of work: The ALS is amended to provide that a child subject to compulsory school attendance may not work more than 17 hours per week or more than ten hours from Monday to Friday. These prohibitions do not apply to any period of more than seven consecutive days during which no educational service is offered, so certain periods such as the summer break, holiday break or spring break could be excluded. In addition, these prohibitions would not come into force until September 1, 2023.

Financial Assistance: The ALS is amended to give CNESST authority to provide financial assistance to support informational, awareness-raising or training initiatives concerning labour standards.

Risk Analysis for the Work performed by children of 16 years of age or under: The AOHS is amended to specify that the risks that may affect in particular the health or safety of workers who are 16 years of age or under must be identified, analyzed, and taken into account, for example in the prevention programs or action plans to be put in place by employers.

Transitional provisions: Lastly, Bill19 provides for consequential amendments and transitional and final provisions. In particular, an employer who currently employs a worker under 14 years of age will have to terminate his employment within 30 days of the assent of Bill 19 by giving him/her notice in accordance with Bill 19, unless that worker falls within one of the exceptions in the RLS. In such a case, the employer shall obtain the required written parental authorization within the same time limit. Where applicable, the provisions relating to occupational health and safety will come into force at the same time as the relevant provisions of An Act to modernize the occupational health and safety regime.

       At the federal level

Minimum Working Age: Similarly, the Federal Order raises the minimum age of employment from 17 to 18 years of age.

Transitional provision for workers who are 17 years old: The Federal Order also implements a transitional provision to allow employees who are 17 years of age on the day of the coming into force of the legislative amendments (June 12, 2023) to be considered as if they are 18 years of age so long as they remain employed by the same employer in the position they held on that day.

  1. General considerations for employers

In short, Bill 19 and the Federal Order make significant changes to the work that can be done by a minor. In order to be well prepared for future legislative changes, employers are well advised to determine whether they have workers under the age of 18 (at the federal level) and 16 and under (at the provincial level) among their employees. Then, depending on the age of their minor employees and their respective jurisdiction, employers will need to determine what next steps need to be taken, such as changes to schedules, identification of occupational health and safety hazards, or even in connection with a potential termination of employment.

If you are an employer and have any questions or would like our assistance, do not hesitate to contact one of our members in our national labour group.

*Special thanks to Ms. Naomi-Edith Barandereka, a McCarthy Tétrault student, for her significant contributions to this blog post.

[1]Civil Code of Québec, RLRQ v CCQ-1991, s. 156.

[2] Canada Labour Standards Regulations, C.R.C., c. 986, s. 10 [CLSR].

[3] Comité consultatif du travail et de la main-d’œuvre, Avis du CCTM concernant le travail des enfants au Québec, December 2022

[4]Ibid, at p. 11.

[5]Ibid, pp. 88 and 89.

[6] Regulations Amending the Canada Labour Standards Regulations (Employees Under 18 Years of Age) in Canada Gazette, Part II, Volume 157, Number 7.



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