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Scholar seeks young workers for study

By: Kevin Ma

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Dec 04, 2013 06:00 am

YOUNG WORKER – Source for Sports employee Mathieu Brisson, 17, explains the features of a hockey helmet to a customer Monday. Brisson is an example of the kind of young worker St. Albert researcher Theresia Williams hopes to interview as part of a province-wide study on young workers.
YOUNG WORKER – Source for Sports employee Mathieu Brisson, 17, explains the features of a hockey helmet to a customer Monday. Brisson is an example of the kind of young worker St. Albert researcher Theresia Williams hopes to interview as part of a province-wide study on young workers.
KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

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A St. Albert researcher hopes Alberta students will help her paint a picture of their lives at work.

Theresia Williams, a social science doctoral student at B.C.’s Royal Roads University, put out a call this week for kids who work as part of her ongoing research into young workers in Alberta.

There are at least 11,000 people under the age of 18 who work in Alberta, said Williams, who lives in St. Albert, but few, if any, studies on them.

“Young people feel that they are making a valuable contribution to Alberta,” she said, “and they have no say in the conditions around their employment.”

There are few jobs open to them, and they have little control over their wages and working conditions, she added.

And those conditions are often dangerous. Young workers aged 15 to 24 were more likely to get seriously injured on the job than those aged 55-plus, accounting for 18 per cent of all disability-related worker’s compensation claims in 2010 compared to just 13 per cent for older workers, reports a 2011 study from Work Safe Alberta.

A 2007 study by Ontario’s Institute for Work and Health of found that young workers saw injuries as “part of the job” and had little influence over workplace conditions.

Youths are also often paid less than adults for the same work, which is a violation of human rights, said Bernard Schissel, a professor of social science and Williams’ supervisor.

“There’s no reason a child or youth should be paid poorly just because they are young,” he said.

Williams is looking to find out more about life at work for children, Schissel said.

“Are they really empowered in the workplace? Or are they typical kids working for spending money?”

Williams said she hopes to interview about 25 Alberta workers aged nine to 16 who had worked for at least four months. She wants to learn about their experiences at work, whether they be good or bad. Participants will also get cameras with which to document their working lives for a potential future exhibit. This research will later be used to make recommendations on how to improve work conditions for youths.

“Most of the young people I’ve talked to don’t know anything about employment standards or safety regulations,” despite provincial rules requiring employers to tell them that information, she said of her research so far.

“They don’t know what their rights are as a worker … that’s a troubling thing.”

Mathieu Brisson, a Grade 12 student at St. Albert Catholic High, said he learned about workers’ compensation and other labour rules through his school’s work experience program prior to getting a job at St. Albert’s Source for Sports.

“It was an eye-opener that you’re actually going to be doing real-world stuff. You’re not just in high school anymore,” he said.

Now 17 (he was 16 when he started at Source for Sports this fall), Brisson says he’s had a pretty good work experience so far, as his job fits with his love of sports and his plans to pursue a business degree.

“What better place to start than a sports store?”

Child labour is a global issue, Schissel said, and there’s a growing movement to improve child wages and rights.

Youths make money for businesses and governments, yet have no say in the rules that govern them, Williams said.

“Young people should have the opportunity to be involved in the discussion and drafting of legislation.”

Kids need to grow up and have fun, Schissel said, so if they do have to work, they should be protected and mentored in a safe environment so they become good citizens.

Williams said she hopes to have her interviews done by March.

Questions on the study should go to Williams at willgts@telusplanet.net or 780-459-6545.


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