Just because students across Alberta will soon be moving from classrooms for jobsites, doesn't mean the learning should stop, according to the province - while the Alberta Federation of Labour questions the approach.
Employment and Immigration has launched an advertising blitz designed to educate young workers about their rights and responsibilities on the job.
"Parents and kids are thinking about summer jobs and, as younger people are going to be moving into the workforce in the next little while, we want them to know the kinds of things to be aware of - the kinds of things to ask about on the job," spokesman Janice Schroeder said yesterday.
"We found that younger workers are the least likely to know what their rights are and they're also the least likely to ask what their responsibilities are."
One ad, titled "What you need to know about working this summer," lists points including that overtime must be paid if a shift is longer that eight hours; a workday cannot be more than 12 hours, including breaks; minimum wage is $8.40 an hour; and parents must provide written consent for children between the ages of 12 and 14 who are working.
The ad also provides a link and telephone numbers for more information.
LISTENING AND WATCHING
Schroeder said the department polices the system through a combination of listening and watching.
"If parents are concerned or if young workers or colleagues or anybody is concerned, they can call our contact centre and indicate their concerns - and what workers are being asked to do," she said.
"And we also have the inspection-driven side, so where there are sectors where we might be concerned, we'll go visit employers."
Schroeder said Employment and Immigration received 4,100 complaints and performed 278 payroll inspections during the 2006-07 fiscal year.
But Nancy Furlong, secretary-treasurer of the 140,000-member AFL, questioned the department's ability to set or enforce standards - and workers' ability to insist on them.
She said the department is more focused on mediation than enforcing the law in individual cases.
"You might see an adult standing up for themself, but even that is rare because they're at risk - Employment Standards doesn't take on employers and doesn't protect (workers) from dismissal when they raise those kinds of issues."
Furlong conceded the booming economy means students have a fair bit of employment choice. But she worries employers stretched for staff can still insist on long hours or inappropriate working conditions.
And while children as young as 12 are barred from certain kinds of work, Furlong wonders if the move to allow Albertans so young to work in the first place - and help alleviate the labour shortage - even makes sense.
"It's our point of view that the 12-year-olds should be playing and going to school rather than working," she said.
Furlong added the government should consider reaching teens through popular youth-oriented Internet sites.
Edmonton Sun, Sun Apr 20 2008
Byline: Daniel MacIsaac