Study finds widespread violations of standards for underage workers in Alberta: More than one in five employed adolescents work in prohibited jobs – survey

Edmonton – There are widespread violations of employment standards for working children and adolescents in Alberta, according to a study by the province’s largest labour group.

“Tens of thousands of adolescent Albertans, aged 12 to 14, are employed and 21 per cent of them work in illegal jobs,” says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 140,000 workers. “The story for child workers, aged 9 to 11, is even worse, with 78 per cent doing work prohibited by the government.”

The study’s release comes in the wake of the Minister of Employment and Immigration saying he would soon be announcing targeted inspections of workplaces that employ young workers.

“This study shows that underage workers need more than a few targeted inspections. Alberta's complaints-driven Employment Standards system does not work for families in this province,” says McGowan. The AFL president added that Alberta's Dickensian decision to allow children as young as 12 to work in restaurants has exacerbated the problem.

“There is no incentive for employers to ensure children and adolescents are working in safe and legal situations, or that they are being paid appropriately. Violations of employment standards laws simply result in a cease-and-desist order, or an order to pay wages owed.”

The Athabasca University study involved a survey of 1,200 Alberta homes as well as follow-up interviews with parents and children/adolescents who participate in the workforce.

Key study findings include:

  • In 2009, 6.3 per cent of children had jobs - 8,200 children aged nine to 11. A total of 78 per cent of the jobs done by children were clearly illegal, such as newspaper delivery, janitorial services. The remaining 22 per cent had jobs such as babysitting and yard work.
  • 26,000 adolescent workers (12 to 14) were employed. More than 21 per cent worked in prohibited occupations (janitorial services, sports teams, working on a golf course). By contrast, 28.6 per cent of jobs appear to be legal types of employment (newspaper delivery, retail sales, restaurants, agriculture). The remaining 50 per cent of jobs were babysitting and yard work.

“We are calling on Employment Minister Lukaszuk to do three things. First, he should immediately reverse the decision to allow children as young as 12 to work in restaurants. Second, the minister should immediately commit to a continuing program of random proactive employment standards inspections for employers who are known to employ underage workers. Third, the minister needs to make immediate changes to Employment Standards enforcement mechanisms, and ensure prosecution of employers who break the law,” says McGowan.

Employment rate surveys were conducted under contract by the University of Alberta Population Research Laboratory in 2008 and 2009. Random sampling of 1,200 homes resulted in statistically generalizable results with an estimated sampling error of 2.8 per cent at the 95-per-cent confidence level.

Interviews were conducted with children, adolescents and parents in the spring and summer of 2009. Initial subjects were recruited through newspaper advertisement and handbills and snowball sampling was subsequently used. Interview results are not statistically generalizable but are analytically generalizable.

The peer-reviewed Athabasca University study was conducted by Dr. Bob Barnetson, Associate Professor of Labour Relations and published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Just Labour.

A copy of this study can be found at

For "Alberta's Child Labour Laws: The Need to Change"


Contacts:             Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour, 780.218.9888

 Dr. Bob Barnetson, Associate Professor of Labour Relations, Athabasca University, 1-866-418-7198   

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