Union safety rep recalls youth attitudes

Sharon Barbour is a national union rep for the Canada Employment and Immigration Union

Sharon Barbour is a national union rep for the Canada Employment and Immigration Union

At this point in the year, many young workers are back in school after summer jobs – but others work throughout the year.

People in this age group (15 to 24) have a higher injury rate, and here in BC, on average 28 young workers are injured every day, says WorkSafeBC. That’s why folks like Sharon Barbour visit high schools and job centres to talk with young workers about their rights. She worked with the BC Federation of Labour’s Young Workers program a few years ago and has many good memories of the young people she met.

“Some of them were kids who had never had jobs, and they were already saying: ‘Ya but if I start refusing work, he’s just going to get someone else to do it,” said Sharon, who told youth it’s illegal for an employer to do that.

“The employer may not be looking out for you the way your teachers do. The employers are trying to make money and sometimes they might ask you to do really stupid things.”

Using video to spark conversation

Sharon showed them Lost Youth – a WorkSafeBC video about four young people injured at work. Then she started by asking who was at fault in the videos.

“The first thing they came up with was: ‘He shouldn’t have been standing there’ and ‘He should have known not to do that.’ Their first instinct is to blame the kids,” she said. “Then I asked: ‘Yeah, but was she trained on this machine? Did she understand how it was supposed to be used? Was there anyone there with her helping?’ I showed them what the employer could have done.”

Thanks to Sharon and all others looking out for our young workers. Here’s the full version of Lost Youth on YouTube (with language that may be offensive to some) that supervisors, educators, and parents can use as conversation openers.


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