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Child employment – what’s an employer’s responsibility?

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It’s Child Employment Awareness Month, and Blaenau Gwent Council is reminding businesses that employ children aged between 13 and 16 years old that they need permits to comply with employment laws.

The 1933 Children Act & Local Authority Byelaws govern the employment of school aged children to ensure young workers are protected, treated fairly and aware of their rights.

Local Authorities across the UK during April each year highlight the law with regards to children of compulsory school age working part-time by: distributing posters and leaflets in libraries, community and shopping centres; presentations and resources into schools and organisations as well as contacting employers.

During one Child Employment Month 1394 employers were visited and out of 1092 children found working, 541 of these were being employed illegally, mostly without the necessary employment (work) permit. Most of the employers were unaware of the legislation regarding the employment of school-aged children and the legal requirement of a permit.

What does the law say?

The law allows a young person to be employed from 14, but Local Authorities can permit a young person to be employed from 13. The Law specifies the permitted hours, types of employment and makes it essential for employers to obtain a permit for school age employees. It includes the rights of the employee and the responsibilities of the employer. Employers who breach this legislation are risking the safety of young people and can face fines of up to £1000.

It is a sad fact that those 541 (approximately 38%) were, more than likely, not covered by any form of insurance, regardless of the policies that the employer has in force.

The Association of British Insurers quoted that, where an employer breaks a law or Regulation, any incident would normally invalidate the insurance policy. Employers must ensure that they have carried out all obligations in law and also are aware of any risks and other necessary safety procedures before they employ a child.

Therefore, any contravention of any Statute Law or Regulation governing the employment of school aged children (and there are over 200 such laws or Regulations) would invalidate the insurance policies the employer may have.

  • One school aged pupil was very seriously burned whilst working in a kitchen. He was employed illegally and without a permit. He was not covered by the employer’s insurance and therefore did not receive any compensation for his injuries. Another boy had the nerves and tendons in his hand severed when he slipped and fell whilst delivering milk. He was also employed illegally and without a permit.

Injuries in the workplace:

The number of children and young people injured per year in the work place goes largely unreported, especially if they are injured whilst being employed illegally.  In recent years there have been cases of a 15-year-old boy losing the fingers of his hand in a sausage mincer, a 14 year old girl lost the tips of her fingers on her hand in a vegetable slicer, a 13 year old boy was killed whilst doing his newspaper round and a 16 year old boy had his hand mangled in an industrial printing press

Hours of Work:

Children aged 15 and 16 years have been found working until 2 am and 3am (collecting glasses in a nightclub and working in a fast food chain).  Many children have been found starting work between 5.30am and 6.30am (delivering newspapers).  Working at these hours will affect the child’s education and is illegal.

What are popular jobs?

According to research “a paper round is the most popular job for almost half the children (43%), followed by working in a shop (18%)”. Other popular jobs are: Waiting on tables and/or washing up in cafes and restaurants; Working in hairdressers.

What kinds of jobs are children not able to do?

Working in a kitchen, in a garage, on a building site, in a factory, in telephone sales and the unsupervised sale of alcohol.

There are around 200 Acts and Regulations, which govern employment of children. 

Some of which are nearly 100 years old. Employers who breach the regulations can be prosecuted and fined.