Exploiting Young Workers is Wrong

IMG_0505Recently I had the opportunity to read an article in The Winnipeg Free Press by Brianna Heinrichs called “Labour Laws are hampering our youth

Some of the points in the article were interesting and it is understandable that restricting the age of workers under the pretense of safety or the need to complete homework does not make sense. In the end however the solution about moderating wages dependent on the age of the worker seems to be an attempt to justify the exploitation of children in our labour force.

Moderating wages based on one’s age is wrong for a few reasons. A clear reason is that it would allow employers the ability to use child labour to offset its regular work force. If an employer can pay an employee less money to do the same work legally, they will. They will find ways to hire as many people they can within the constraint of the labour market to decrease their expenditures on salary and increase their profits. If they didn’t do that, then I can only imagine that some shareholders might be left wondering why the management are not acting in the best interest of the shareholder which simply means ensuring those same shareholders maximize the return on the investment they have made. That is the purpose of business above all else, profits.

Another reason is that moderating wages based on a worker’s age flies in the face of Human Resource best practices. Pay equity and parity cannot happen if you are paying people differently dependant on their age for the same job. You might find a youth is just as inexperienced in a role as an adult and in an age where seniors are being hired often into their “retirement careers” outside of areas where they have experience it doesn’t make sense that you would pay youth less.

Legality of such a system also presents challenges from the perspective of human rights. How can one argue that moderating one’s pay based on their age is not discrimination on the basis of age? What bone-fide occupational requirement would require that a youth be paid less for the same work someone older was doing? How is making the argument that because youth are living with their parents they don’t need a “living wage” not discrimination based on family status? The answer, it isn’t. It might be prudent to also point out that plenty of youth do not live with their parents.

Where the article did have merit however was in regards to discussion surrounding what age is appropriate for youth to enter the workforce. It is inconsistent to allow youth to perform work in a family business or in agriculture but then to say their friends of the same age could not assist as an employee because the work is deemed to be unsafe or that it prevents them from doing homework.

For instance in Manitoba the age of 12 is commonly considered to be the age where it becomes appropriate to allow youth to begin babysitting children younger than them without adults being present. One might wonder how it makes sense that legally a 12 year old youth can legally be put in charge of the wellbeing of children for an entire evening, yet they are considered too young to show a person to the table at a restaurant.

Are youth hampered in the job market today? Yes they are, but the solution is not a change in regulations that prevent the exploitation of children. Youth need to find ways to gain experience either in the type of work they are interested in, or if that isn’t possible, then gain experience in transferable skills that can be used to increase their marketability. How they do that may be left to their own imagination.

Do you think youth deserve a fair wage like anyone else?

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2 Responses to Exploiting Young Workers is Wrong

  1. Hi Colin,

    I am the author of the original article and found your blog through Google. Thanks for reading it and sharing your thoughts! I particularly like that you raised a concern that a lower wage for youth might result in employers using children to offset the regular workforce. I wondered this as well, but the [limited] evidence we have from other jurisdictions suggests that adult employment is not adversely affected by a lower minimum wage rate for youth. Potential explanations include that teenagers are quite restricted in the hours they can work, they are less mobile, usually only work part-time, and are typically less experienced. In other words, employers aren’t able to profitably replace many of their regular workers with young people. We both know that many employers take more than wage into account when choosing who to hire. Still, if this became a problem, legislators might consider capping the percentage of employees that an employer can pay the minimum youth rate.

    Other countries have implemented a separate youth or student minimum wage. I wanted to put the idea out there, because youth are disproportionately unemployed in Canada… the youth unemployment rate is around double the regular unemployment rate! A lower minimum wage for youth would essentially be an attempt at affirmative action. Some researchers attribute the youth unemployment problem to a rising minimum wage that is pricing inexperienced workers out of the market, which isn’t fair to them.

    Please note that we are talking about moderating wages based on age only for younger people, not for seniors and those at retirement age, etc. Canadian laws treat young people differently in many cases already… you can’t vote until you’re an adult, you don’t have the right to do several things without parental consent, impaired driving laws are extra stringent when it comes to people in their early twenties, etc… there are debates about whether all this is fair or is merely discrimination based on age, but generally people and the courts agree that it’s possible for a law to treat young people differently and still be constitutional.

    I loved your point about the inconsistency of 12-year-olds legally being allowed to carry the responsibility of looking after children, but not being able to show people to a table in a restaurant. I wish I had room to expand on this idea in the op-ed!

    My article was in no way an attempt to promote or justify the exploitation of children, as your title and part of your post insinuates.

    Regards,
    Brianna

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