British Columbia and now Alberta have removed restrictions on the employment of teenagers under the age of fifteen. In both cases, it was business lobby groups that demanded, and got, the changes to the provincial labour standards acts. In order to put these changes into context we need to rewind the clock to when youth unemployment was double the average rate and wages for the hourly paid labour force had been stagnant for the better part of two decades: the mid 1990s.
Back then business lobby groups and their brain trust (your garden variety economist) were arguing that the solution to unemployment was to lower UI eligibility and benefits and reduce welfare payments. People were unemployed because these two programs in combination forced the reservation wage above the minimum wage. That is, such policies were said to be interfering with the proper operation of the forces of supply and demand. The coercion of labour markets needed to be liberated.
Fast-forward a decade, now the forces of supply and demand are working, in some small degree to labours advantage, and our good business people and their associated lobby groups and economists have successfully argued that the solution to labour shortages is not to raise wages to induce a greater supply of labour, but, rather, to manipulate supply by bringing in foreign workers on special limited term contracts and to lower the legal age of employment; that is, let us be clear, to legalize child labour.
Don’t expect economists to get all upset about this as they tend, like business people, to worship the forces of supply and demand when they are working in the interests of owners and shun them in favour of the big corporate nanny state when the forces of supply and demand are working in the favour of labour; kind of like their attitude towards monopoly pricing.
Labour market coercion apparently is only natural when it lowers wages not when it raises them. And this gives the lie to all the neoliberal rhetoric about free markets. It appears labour will not even be allowed to have the last of the summer’s wine from this bull market.