|Discussion needed on child farm labour|
|Local Content - Letters to the Editor|
|Written by production|
|Wednesday, 16 January 2013 16:30|
As the MLA for Little Bow, the Agricultural and Rural Development Critic for the Official Opposition for Alberta, a parent, a farmer and a child that was raised on a farm in Alberta, I have a great understanding of the workings on a farm. Back in the day, farm children were encouraged to stay home from school to help bring in the harvest. Why? We all needed to eat, and make a living for the basics in life and because it wasn’t as easy as going to Safeway and picking up what you needed. Have times changed? For sure.
The definition of child labour in the dictionary is “A person between birth and full growth providing physical toil done for wages.” Now, I’m sure you are all thinking back to the times you had to take out the garbage or clean your room and thinking, well I got an allowance so I guess I provided child labour.
In researching with the International Labour Organization it states: “Not all work done by children should be classified as child labour that is to be targeted for elimination. Children’s or adolescents’ participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling is generally regarded as being something positive. This includes activities such as helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays. These kinds of activities contribute to children’s development and to the welfare of their families; they provide them with skills and experience, and help to prepare them to be productive members of society during their adult life. The term “child labour” is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.
Now, as a parent, and also as a legislator, I believe we need to be very careful how we go about dictating or legislating to parents what improves a child’s personal development. I am not saying that there is not abuse, unfortunately there is, but I am saying we need to be very careful what changes are made to already existing child labour laws.
Alberta Employment Standards Regulations and Restriction on Employment of Children states:
“65(1) No person may during normal school hours, employ, or permit to work on the person’s premises, an individual who is required to attend school under the School Act, unless the conditions specified in section 66 are complied with.
(2) No individual under 15 years old may be employed without written consent of the individual’s parent or guardian and the approval of the director, unless the regulations and condition specified in section 66 are complied with.
66 The conditions referred to in section 65 is that the individual must be enrolled in an off-campus education program provided under the School Act.
Further to this, I have had discussions with school boards, teachers, parents and farmers regarding this concern. Is there an issue in southern rural Alberta? You bet. Does it need to be dealt with by changing legislation or does it need to be dealt with by enforcing the legislation already in place? Do agricultural employers need to be better educated to the Alberta employment standards for our young? Does there need to be stiffer penalties for those who are non-compliant with the standards? Does the Director for Employment Standards need to be more aware of the issues and ensure the standards are complied with? Do we need stronger government incentives to assist agricultural producers deal with the time and weather sensitive necessities of farming?
These are all questions I would appreciate input from our agricultural producers, educators and parents. The Farmworkers Union of Alberta only represents a very small number of agriculture producers. I have been elected to represent ALL the Agricultural Producers in Little Bow. We need to come up with a consensus on how to address this issue. I encourage all school boards, teachers, parents and agriculture producers from every sector of agriculture to provide me with solutions and suggestions on how to protect our children from labour abuse and also bring in the harvest.
Ian Donovan, M.L.A., Little Bow
Agriculture and Rural Development Critic
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