Supervision of youth work: law or cocktail of measures?

While they acknowledge that the government needs to better regulate youth work, employers remain reluctant to publicly express their expectations. Even the organizations at the forefront of the fight against school dropout are perplexed.

Labor Minister Jean Boulet will introduce a bill in February 2023 “inspired” by a report just presented to him by the Advisory Committee on Labor and Manpower (CCTM).

However, the minister does not promise that his future law will satisfy all the wishes of the KKTM, which recommends setting the minimum age for employment at 14 and prohibiting young people under 16 from working more than 17 hours a week during the school year – and no more. than 10 o’clock from Monday to Friday.

According to the Quebec Youth Health Survey, more than half of Quebecers aged 15 to 19 (53%) work during the school year—compared to 41.7% nationally—and spend an average of almost 20 hours per week. people in high school 2016-2017.

“We don’t have an official position yet, we’re discussing it, but I think we need to determine what’s acceptable,” says Charles Billion, president and CEO of the Federation of Quebec Chambers of Commerce.

Same story from the Quebec Restoration Association. “We are keeping our case for possible public consultation,” sums up Dominique Tremblay, director of public and government affairs.

The Quebec Retail Council denied our request for an interview.

The catering and retail sectors, along with the hospitality sector, are the main sources of recruitment of young workers.

School of perseverance

Many studies show that working 10 to 15 hours a week allows you to gain skills and develop self-reliance and a sense of responsibility.

Besides, the school’s perseverance would dry up. According to the Statistical Institute of Quebec (ISQ), the proportion of students at risk of dropout is 30.7% among those who work 16 hours or more; in the latter group, the tendency to drop out is noticeably higher among boys (38.1%) than among girls (20.7%).

ISQ recently launched a new student consultation. The results of these six-year exercises will not be known until autumn 2024.

The average school dropout rate was 14% at the end of 2019-2020.

Consultation first

“When it comes to the number of hours devoted to work, every young person is unique. Everyone is able to organize themselves and combine activities, says Audrey McKinnon, executive director of the Quebec Network for Educational Success. But society, parents, government and employers must make sure that school remains the first occupation of every young person. »

Therefore, an organization that brings together 18 regional organizations working with youth employment centers, schools and chambers of commerce does not necessarily recommend tightening the existing framework. “We don’t know the extent of the problem yet,” says Ms McKinnon. We must first understand the situation and then evaluate what we can do. We already have laws protecting youth. »

In addition, many initiatives have been implemented over the years to promote work-study balance.

Some of them cover all of Quebec, such as the Engaged Employers awareness program or Mon boss, c’est le Meilleur! Others have a regional calling; This applies to the “I choose my employer” site, which is aimed at both businesses and young workers in the Eastern Townships, or to the employers’ directory in Bose, “At My Choice”.

In February 2022, the Federation of Quebec Chambers of Commerce unveiled its Employer’s Charter for Perseverance in School, which, among other things, encourages its members to offer an adapted schedule and encourage a targeted diploma. According to Charles Billion, about 200 large and small companies have joined it.

The Commission for Equity in Occupational Health and Safety Standards (CNESST) is also seeking to inform young workers in several ways: a radio and social media advertising campaign, a video contest, the Jeunes au website and, last summer, a prevention team. for young gardeners.

But what are the results of all these initiatives? “We don’t have numbers that would allow us to measure the impact of the Employers’ Charter, but the sum of all these small measures can make a difference,” says Mr. Million.

It is also not easy to find the right way to attract young clients. Based on the findings of an evaluation report published in 2015, less than half of the approximately 7,000 students surveyed were aware of the Work-Study Balance (CÉ-T) program for perseverance, achievement, and academic achievement. students in Estri and attached great importance to the fact that the employer was CÉ-T certified.

Most working students did not even know if their employer had this certification, and very few had heard of the program from their employer.

Safety First

Work-study balance or not, the Commission on Human and Youth Rights (CDPDJ) fears that we are endangering the safety and development of children.

“We are seeing continuous progress in the work of young people in the first, second and third middle grades, which we did not see 20 years ago,” worries Daniel Ducharme, researcher for the CDPDJ. It becomes systematized. »

Between the 2010-2011 and 2016-2017 academic years, the share of working young people jumped by 8% in secondary school I, by 11% in secondary school II and by 12% in secondary school III!

The CDPDJ is calling for “stronger rules” – without clarification – on minimum age and daily or weekly working hours to clarify the concept of “work disproportionate to ability” used in the Youth Protection Act and the Labor Act. standards.

In this debate, only one clear requirement seems to emerge: the Certified Human Resources Counselors Order (OCRHA), which requires a maximum of 12 hours per week during the school year and only for students under 16.

The order is concerned about the risk of dropping out, as well as the increase in the number of accidents at work among young employees.

In 2021, CNSEST processed 3,198 cases involving young people aged 19 years and younger who were injured as a result of an accident at work or an occupational disease. This is 11% more than a year earlier. Among employees under the age of 16 alone, the number of cases reported to CNEST more than doubled between 2018 and 2021, rising from 85 to 203. We even regret one death.

“Some young people… are too young to be risk-averse,” says Manon Poirier, chief executive of OCRHA. A 12- or 13-year-old teenager does not have the same maturity, the same ability to understand, as a 16-year-old. »

Not surprisingly, his organization also wants us to always prohibit assigning young people under the age of 14 tasks that pose a high risk to their physical and psychological integrity.

Back to the Future ?

In terms of supervising youth work, Quebec stands out from other Canadian provinces that have a minimum age for employment and a maximum number of working hours per week for children.

However, this was not always the case. Prior to the repeal of the Industrial and Commercial Establishments Act, which was replaced by the Labor Standards Act in 1980, it was illegal to employ children under 16 during the school year. In 1999, some requirements were added in Quebec that are still in place, such as parental consent for young people under the age of 14, a ban on disproportionate tasks, and a ban on night work.

Employers may want to explore other solutions before systematically reaching out to younger employees, according to OCRHA’s Manon Poirier. Despite exceptionally low unemployment rates, some workforce groups are actually underrepresented in companies.

“A day when we have fair representation of people with disabilities, indigenous peoples, certain visible minorities, and when there is only a pool of young people left to recruit, then we can say that we have done everything necessary to fill the vacancies,” she concludes.

>> Read also: Should I let my child work?

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