Canada: Teens save a gun-free labor market – 15/06/2022 at 08:27


Sofia-Rose Adams, 13, employee of a cafe in the greater Montreal area, in Saint-Mathias-sur-Richelieu, Canada, June 12, 2022 (AFP/Paola Chapdelaine)

She prepares ice cream and manages the cash register as if she has done this all her life. An increasing number of young Quebec teens, such as 13-year-old Sofia-Rose Adams, are working after school in a region hit by a severe labor shortage.

“Do you want your receipt?” the teen asks, smiling at a client of café-restaurant Les Gourmandes, in the greater Montreal region, where the young girl has just been hired for several hours a week.

“I wanted to work to have a small side job, work hours here and there and also earn some pocket money,” Sofia-Rose told AFP, wearing a blue cap on her head and round glasses on the nose.

For her, who is passionate about music and improv theater in her rare spare time, it is “normal to start working at her age”.

There is no minimum age to work in Quebec, only parental consent is required for those under 14 years of age. There is also no limit on the number of hours worked, as long as it is not during school hours or at night for those under 16.

In the kitchen of Gourmandes, other teenage girls prepare soups. At this small Quebec company, seven out of eight employees are under the age of 18.

“After the pandemic, we faced major recruitment problems,” explains owner Marie-Eve Guertin, who had to call on the under-15s for the first time in nine years this year.

Sofia-Rose Adams (right), 13, and her sister Orlane (left), 17, both work in a cafe in Saint-Mathias-sur-Richelieu, Canada, June 12, 2022 (AFP/Paola Chapdelaine)

Sofia-Rose Adams (right), 13, and her sister Orlane (left), 17, both work in a cafe in Saint-Mathias-sur-Richelieu, Canada, June 12, 2022 (AFP/Paola Chapdelaine)

“It’s very hard for full-time jobs. I don’t have a resume,” she complains, so she relies on teenagers to keep her head above water. “A business, you want to grow it, you don’t want to limit it,” she says, while avoiding cutting hours of operation like many restaurants do.

– A Quebec “specificity” –

In the French-speaking province of Canada, where the unemployment rate stands at 3.9%, the lack of workers in nearly all industries encourages employers to show ingenuity to meet their needs. Hiring teenagers, and in some cases pre-teens, is sometimes the answer.

While there is no data to identify those under 14 in the workforce, statistics show that one in two Quebec residents aged 15 to 19 has a job.

“I started in the workforce when I was 14,” said Philippe Marcil, 17, now an employee of a menswear store in the suburbs of the metropolitan Quebec City.

“I understood at a young age that it was important to gain experience in the labor market, so I wanted to experience that too,” says AFP, the man who worked for two years as a team leader in a fast food chain.

This hockey player and running fan, who wants to become a lawyer, says he finds a “balance” between social life, work and study by making “pretty precise agendas”, which he tries to respect “as best as possible”.

Philippe, who is also very invested in school, has set himself a limit of 15 hours of work per week so that his professional life does not affect his academic results.

“Child labor has always been relatively present in Quebec, especially when compared to European countries,” explains Charles Fleury, a sociologist and professor of industrial relations at Laval University.

“Whether you’re a child from a privileged or disadvantaged family, there really is this kind of appreciation of work as a demonstration of autonomy,” he adds.

Sofia-Rose Adams, 13, serves an ice cream to a customer at a cafe in Saint-Mathias-sur-Richelieu, Canada, June 12, 2022 (AFP/Paola Chapdelaine)

Sofia-Rose Adams, 13, serves an ice cream to a customer at a cafe in Saint-Mathias-sur-Richelieu, Canada, June 12, 2022 (AFP/Paola Chapdelaine)

But what is new is that the type of employment is changing with the tight labor market. Today, teens are no longer content with babysitting, handing out newspapers, or picking fruit.

And this situation is beginning to be alarming: Recently, Quebec’s Labor Minister, Jean Boulet, stated that he did not consider it “normal” for 11-year-old children to work and suggested that Quebec be considering legislation to restrict the work of most young people. Elsewhere in Canada, most other provinces have introduced legislation to set a minimum age.

Even if these teens enter the labor market of their own free will, “there is still a risk that school failures and dropouts are encouraged,” says Charles Fleury, speaking of a “situation to watch out for”.

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