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Saskatchewan farm investigated after child labour complaints

(Canadian OH&S News) -- A family farm near Endeavour, Sask. has received clearance to allow the owners’ two young daughters to work at its onsite butcher shop, following an investigation by the Ministry of Labour Relations and...


(Canadian OH&S News) — A family farm near Endeavour, Sask. has received clearance to allow the owners’ two young daughters to work at its onsite butcher shop, following an investigation by the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety.

But Cool Springs Ranch & Butchery, operated by Sam and Janeen Covlin, may no longer hire children under the age of 16 from other families to work on the farm, as Saskatchewan law prohibits underage employees working in meat processing facilities. The ministry informed the Covlins of this decision on Aug. 8.

“We were breaking a law that I didn’t really know existed,” Janeen Covlin told COHSN. “I had not read any rules about anything, because butchering chickens is something I’ve done all my life, as a kid, and everybody I know does it. So I hadn’t really stopped to wonder if there were even any rules about it.”

An inspector from the labour ministry had shown up at Cool Springs earlier that week, in response to two complaints that the farm had been using child labour. The Covlins had been employing three neighbourhood children — aged 11, 13 and 15 — to work in the butcher shop. “The 11- and 15-year-old, they’ve had the most experience here, and so they’re pretty valuable to me, actually,” Covlin said.

The Covlins have four children; 10-year-old Kate and eight-year-old Emma are involved in the operations of the farm.

“I was upset that there was a neighbour that would feel obligated to report this,” said Covlin, adding that she had no hard feelings towards the inspector or the ministry. “I understand this is his job,” she said about the inspector. “He was nice about it; he was very good about it.”

Covlin also said that the work that her neighbour employees had been doing was not dangerous. “The most that could happen is, if they’re opening up a chicken, they could cut themselves. But I don’t usually have them on that work, because they’re faster with some of the other jobs,” she said. “There are lots of adults here on a chicken butchering day; it’s not like the kids outweigh the adults. So there’s tons of supervision.”

In the end, the government decided that Cool Springs Ranch’s processing facilities were an extension of the family farm, making the Covlins’ own children exempt from rules barring them from working there. In addition, the farm has a strong safety record to date, news reports have stated.

The necessity of hiring new people to replace the neighbourhood kids has already affected the farm’s productivity, Covlin said. “We’re butchering again today, and we’ve got a fairly inexperienced crew now,” she explained. “So the whole line is very slow right now, because they’re all learning. So that’s real hard.”

Covlin said that she was considering appealing the ruling against employing outside children, but that she had not examined how to go about doing so. A reporter had mentioned that the farm could apply on a case-per-case or a person-per-person basis for an exemption from the 16-year-old rule. “I haven’t had a chance to look into this,” she said.

Located in eastern Saskatchewan, Cool Springs Ranch specializes in pasture-based foods without chemicals or other artificial enhancements.