Quebec's labour minister suspects that employers want to distort Bill 19, which aims to limit the presence of children in the labour market.

Jean Boulet made the implication on Tuesday, on the first day of specific consultations, when several employer groups were calling for exceptions.

Bill 19 would set the minimum age for working in Quebec at 14 and would prohibit 14- to 16-year-olds from working more than 17 hours a week during the school year, excluding holidays.

"I still feel that there is an attempt to do indirectly what cannot be done directly," said Boulet.

The Quebec Federation of Chambers of Commerce (FCCQ) had just asked him to allow people under 14 to obtain exemptions to the piecework.

It also asked that all owners and directors of family businesses, including those with more than ten employees, be allowed to employ their children.

This proposal was also echoed by the Conseil du patronat du Québec (CPQ) and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

They pointed out that family businesses such as grocery shops or agricultural companies often employ more than ten employees at certain times of the year.

"It seems unlikely to us that a young person is more at risk in a family business with 20 employees than in one with 10," said FCCQ president and CEO Charles Milliard.

On the other hand, the CPQ has called for more flexibility from the legislator so that young people under 14 can continue to work this summer.

"Why not give these young people and businesses a chance to get through the summer season (...) and have time to adapt?" asked CPQ president Karl Blackburn.

CFIB vice-president François Vincent went further, saying that the 90,000 or so young people under 14 who are currently working should keep their jobs.

"These thousands of young people who will be shown the door are the same ones who have not been able to play their sports or see their friends for almost two years," Vincent argued.

A 13-year-old could have a hard time, he said.

"All his friends are going to do summer work, but he's going to be stuck playing Nintendo in the basement," he illustrated.

To all these requests, Boulet replied that the health and safety of young people should not be put at risk and that one accident this summer would be one too many.

"We must remember that we are here to better protect our children and ensure their educational success," he said in his opening remarks.


Unlike business, the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) said it was concerned about the exception for family businesses with fewer than ten employees, calling it a "dangerous fuse."

"We are concerned that this exception will be used as a springboard for demands to expand the areas where children under 14 could work," the union wrote in its brief.

The Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ) wants it to apply only to family farm businesses or to "work that is not hazardous to the health and safety of children."

For its part, the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ) is proposing an addition: to make training mandatory for young workers under 16, giving them the right to work certification.

"We must ensure that these young people have the necessary resources and information when they enter the labour market," insisted CSQ President Éric Gingras.

Specific consultations on Bill 19 continue until Thursday. About 15 groups have been invited to present their briefs to the Commission de l'économie et du travail. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on April 18, 2023.