The young and their missing workplace rights

Lana
Lana Payne
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It's that time again - summer has finally arrived. And it took long enough.

But for thousands of young people - including high-school, college and university students - summer is not about vacation, but about work and finding a job.

Youth employment across the country has always lagged employment for those between 25-54 years - the core working age group. The recession and a lacklustre job market in many parts of the country have not helped. In fact, it has made it a lot tougher for young workers looking for job experience and a little extra cash to pay for the cost of school.

Once again, St. John's appears to be bucking the trend with help-wanted signs continuing to dot the city landscape.

Sometimes young people are so grateful to have a job that investigating their rights in the workplace may not exactly be a top priority. Even if you have a great employer, you should still know what your rights are. Education and being informed is always best.

Oftentimes, and for many reasons, young workers just don't feel like complaining about their treatment at work or their working conditions. They may feel intimated by the boss.

Given the temporary nature of summer employment, they may just say what the heck and suck it up as they may not want to risk losing the prize - a summer job and real cash in their pockets.

Even so, knowing your workplace rights - including both employment and occupational, health and safety rights - is important. Knowing them may just save your life or prevent an injury - an injury that can happen in a second, yet be with you forever.

Injury is too common
Young workers, according to the Workplace, Health Safety and Compensation Commission, are often at a higher risk of being hurt on the job. We know this because young workers have had little, if any health and safety training, and perhaps no orientation in health and safety.

According to the Commission's latest annual report, in the past five years 5,368 young workers between the ages of 15 to 24 were injured on the job in our province. That's an stunning average of more than 1,000 young people every year.

But it's not just about individuals knowing their rights.

It's also the role and responsibility of employers to inform employees of their rights in the workplace and how better to protect employees from the dangers in those workplaces.

It's about employers practicing health and safety. It's not just about young people individually looking out to their own safety, as important as that is. It is also about the safety culture in that workplace and working collectively to develop workplace prevention.

Too often, health and safety is deemed an individual responsibility. But it is, and must be so much more. And we have to remember that it's not that easy for a young person to complain about being asked to do what he or she may perceive as unsafe work. The workplace power imbalance between workers and their employers is always great, but for young workers it is even greater.

Young workers, like all workers, have the right to refuse unsafe work. They have the right to know about the dangers and hazards in their workplace. It is the employer's job to ensure they do know.

Knowing all the rules

In addition, there are basic employment rights. These are known as minimum standards or labour standards and are the law of the land - the laws that cover most young workers in our province as many do not have the benefits of a union contract.

These laws cover things like hours of work, wage rates, overtime rates, tips, vacation pay, public holidays, parental leave and "employment of children."

For example, as of July 1 in this province, it is illegal to pay someone less than $10 an hour. Employees must be given one day (24 consecutive hours) off work each week of employment. Workers are entitled to rest periods and over-time pay.

The last time labour standards were reviewed in our province, outside of the minimum wage, was in 2000. At that time, the review Committee recommended that every employee in the province have a copy, or be given a copy of their labour standards and that there be increased public education. While some of this has happened, we have a long way to go.

Far too many young people are unaware of their workplace rights, which is an unacceptable fact that sets the stage for exploitation.

Every new employee should be given a copy of their workplace rights upon being hired and there should be an orientation to all workplace rights. Simple.

And of course, government can always do more to ensure people are educated about their rights whether they are workplace rights or human rights. Laws are extremely important, but having a population who is educated about those laws is just as important.

You can find out about your labour standards by visiting http://www.hrle.gov.nl.ca/lra/labourstandards/faq.htm or by calling 1-877-563-1063 or 729-2743.

And if something is not right - complain about it. Let labour standards know. Silence has never fixed a problem yet.


Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by e-mail at lanapayne@nl.rogers.com. Her column returns July 31.

Organizations: Health Safety and Compensation Commission, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: St. John's

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