Parents have been putting their kids to work on the farm for thousands of years, but modern-day Canada has some pretty strict laws about child labour. As strict as these rules are, there’s a surprising amount of grey area in their enforcement. Given the consequences of breaking these laws, it’s a good idea for you to know where you stand before your children’s regular farm chores legally turn into paid work that might earn you a visit from the government.
It Matters Where You Live
Canada’s labour laws are mostly set by the provinces. These laws vary quite a lot, but a good rule of thumb is to assume that kids under 12 aren’t supposed to hold jobs, and minors aren’t allowed to work in hazardous occupations or for full workdays. The law generally restricts the hours kids can work to before and after school. Agricultural workers almost always fall under special working-hours rules, and so it’s a good idea to talk to a labour lawyer before putting the kids to work on the farm.
Exemptions, and the Exemptions to the Exemptions
Just as the Maritime Provinces have special rules for seasonal workers, farm-heavy provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan have rules tailored to the needs of the agricultural sector. Some farm families are still taken by surprise by sudden action on the part of the government to enforce rules they didn’t know they were breaking. Such was the case with the Covlin family of Saskatchewan, who got a letter from the Occupational Safety and Health Commission forbidding their 8- and 10-year-old daughters to work in the family’s chicken processing plant. Complicating things even further, the government backed down just a few days later after the Colvins took their case to social media. Partially reversing the situation again, the government agreed to let the girls do some work but forbade heavy labour and barred two other minors, not part of the Colvin family, from working there at all. Reversals like this can induce uncertainty and make even a careful family think twice before sending the kids to the henhouse to collect eggs.
The CRA Complicates Things Even More
Complicating the child-labour picture further are the CRA’s incentives to add family members to the payroll. If the kids are genuinely doing work that you’d pay a stranger for, their employment generally counts as a deductible expense for your business. It’s not hard to understand why the Revenue Agency does this; turning kids’ allowances into taxable income is a canny move, but it certainly doesn’t ease the regulatory burden on farm families that want to comply with minimum-age and maximum-hours rules. As always with legal arcana, your only safe bet is to sit down with a professional before putting your children on the roster as farmhands. Even this doesn’t cover every case, and the provincial government can be full of surprises when it wants to be, so when in doubt, send the kids indoors to do their homework and bale the hay yourself.