Amid a scorching summer job market, teen workers need to keep health and safety in mind

As a researcher in child and youth studies, I am interested in the relationship between adolescents and work. After two years of confinement that have prevented many teenagers from working, the current labor shortage offers them many interesting job opportunities this summer. This may be particularly welcome news for those who have had more difficulty finding work, such as younger, racialized teenagers.

Grade eight student Miriam, the daughter of a colleague of mine, shared with me her excitement about entering the workforce. She is keen to use her childcare experience in her new job as a junior counselor at a summer day camp:

“I feel excited but also nervous. I have never worked (in a formal job) before. But I know I’m lucky to have it… I think it will be cool and interesting but also hard and tiring. I think I’ll really enjoy it and I know I’ll like to earn my own money and meet new friends.

Early part-time work offers many opportunities for teenagers: earning money, building skills and career networks, developing friendships, and fostering confidence and independence. And teens themselves generally have positive feelings about early part-time work.

Young workers are vulnerable

There are also issues that arise with early work, and one of the main ones is health and safety. Young workers are particularly vulnerable because they tend to do short-term work, often lack training and safety education, and may view injuries as simply “part of the job”.

Young workers are also in unequal power relations with employers, both as employees and because of their young age. They lack the confidence to speak up and employers are less likely to listen to them when they raise their concerns.link text

Part-time work offers teens the opportunity to earn money, build skills and career networks, develop friendships, and foster confidence and independence.
(Shutterstock)

Parents often have a positive opinion of their children’s work, which leads to minimizing potential risks. Threads of Life, a Canadian charity that supports families after a workplace death, found that two-thirds of businesses in Canada plan to hire more young workers in 2022 than in the past two years, but only half have a safety program.

Labor laws are provincial and vary across Canada. In most places, children between the ages of 14 and 16 can work, with limitations on the types of work they can do, how long they can work, and when (especially during school hours). Usually, for young teenagers of 12 or 13 years old, a permit is necessary. Teenagers must be 17 or 18 to do more dangerous work, such as logging or mining. The rules tend to be more lax when a child is working in a family business.

In particular, in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, children between the ages of 13 and 15 must take a Young Worker Readiness Certificate course before working. Quebec is currently re-evaluating its child labor laws in the face of increasing accidents among teenagers under the age of 16, and the British Columbia government has recently tightened its rules regarding early work.

Adolescent experiences with work

My research team conducted in-depth interviews with young workers under the age of 16 in various jobs in Ontario and British Columbia. We also conducted over 200 surveys of Grade 9 students in Ontario and held 14 focus groups with some of these students. We researched their experiences, their thoughts on early labor, and how they might respond to labor challenges.

We learned that while Canadian governments rarely collect data on working children under 15, many young teens are working. They babysit, deliver newspapers, play baseball, sell produce, and do many other jobs. A small part even work very long hours. Others want to work, but don’t know how to find a job.

A child riding a bicycle and holding a newspaper
Many young teens work babysitting, delivering newspapers, refereeing baseball games and more.
(Shutterstock)

We asked students how they would handle unsafe working conditions. Some said they would seek advice from their peers. Since many teenagers have had little work experience in recent years, this inclination suggests that teenagers will talk to other inexperienced peers.

A number of our participants were also reluctant to say no to unsafe work and did not know they had the right to refuse unsafe work. Most had not yet taken Ontario’s Grade 10 secondary course on workplace rights and safety.

Parents must protect teenagers

It’s exciting that young workers have the chance to start a job early this summer, but many may not be sufficiently prepared. Parents play an important role in supporting their working children, whether it’s driving them to work or advising them when work interferes with school.

Parents need to ask questions and offer advice about safety and fairness in their children’s new workplaces. Employers must listen to the concerns of young workers and ensure that new workers receive sufficient and repeated safety information. Young people themselves should pay attention to security measures and speak up courageously if a situation seems dangerous or unfair to them.

About Jason Norton

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