How young is too young to send your kid off to the coal mines? It depends what state you live in.

In Western Australia, McDonald’s was fined $15,000 last week in the Perth Industrial Magistrates’ Court for illegally employing a 14-year-old girl to work overnight shifts in its Rockingham outlet. State Commerce Minister Michael Mischin said the Department of Commerce had initiated the action against the company after learning the child was spending too many hours at work and working past 10pm, breaching the Children and Community Service Act 2004. Mischin said in a statement:

“During one shift, the child commenced work at 3.21pm on a Saturday afternoon and did not conclude her shift until after 6am the following day … Our employment laws seek to provide children with the benefits of participating in employment while balancing the remaining important aspects of their lives, including their education.”

It’s not the first time Macca’s has fallen foul of WA’s child labour laws, which are among the strictest in the country. Between July 2006 and February 2007 it was fined $88,000 in relation to unlawful employment of 40 children.

The employment of children, considered those individuals under the age of 18, is regulated by a number of state, federal or territory laws in Australia. Western Australia, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory have the most detailed legislation …

What are all these kids doing?

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures from 2006 show the most common occupation for boys between five and 14 during school terms was newspaper delivery (24%), while for girls it was sales worker (20%). According to the 2006 Child Employment Survey, there were some 175,000 children between five and 14 years who had a job, representing the 6.6% of all Australian kids. Usually, they worked to spend money (80%) and to save (60%).

The Northern Territory and WA had the highest proportions of workers (12% and 9.5%), followed by NSW and Victoria (6%). Across Australia, children in state capital cities were less likely to have worked than children in rural areas. Some 10% said they worked more than 10 hours a week during school term, and the percentage doubled during school holidays.

What are the laws in Western Australia?

In WA, children need to be 15 years of age to be employed in part-time, casual or holiday jobs. Those aged between 13 and 15 may be employed in a shop, retail outlet, restaurant, delivering newspapers or pamphlets, or collecting shopping trolleys between 6am and 10pm and if the work is outside school hours.

… and in New South Wales?

In New South Wales The Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) (Child Employment) Regulation 2010 states the total period of time for which a child is employed during any week, when added to the time that the child is in school, must not exceed 50 hours. So, if a child spends 35-40 hours a week at school, he could work 10-15. But children must not work more than four hours on any day on school days.

… and in Victoria?

In Victoria, the Child Employment Act 2003 allows children aged 13 and over to go to work. Children can be employed for a maximum of three hours per day and 12 hours per week during school term, and a maximum of six hours per day and 30 hours per week during school holidays. Moreover, kids cannot work earlier than 6am or sunrise (whichever is later) or later than 6pm or sunset (whichever is earlier) if the child is employed in street trading; and earlier than 6am or later than 9pm in any other case. Children as young as 11 can work delivering newspapers and advertising material or making deliveries for a registered pharmacist.

… and in Queensland?

The Child Employment Act 2006 of Queensland allows employers to hire children for a maximum of 12 hours during a school week to a maximum of 38 during a non-school week. The sunshine state defines the minimum age as 11 for delivery work and 13 for any other work. The maximum allowable hours of work for school-aged children are four on a school day and eight on a non-school day.

… and in South Australia?

South Australia has no current child labour laws but is considering a government act to limit the amount of work children can do.

… and in Tasmania?

Tasmania does not have legislation specifically addressing the employment of children and the working hours allowed, although the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1997 provides regulations considering the protection of children in employment. Tasmania is currently reviewing its child labour laws.

What about the entertainment industry?

The entertainment industry has a different set of criteria entirely, allowing for child actors and models. Generally speaking, children under three are allowed to work in the entertainment industry for no more than four hours a week under the approval of a guardian and with the presence of a registered nurse. There is also no minimum age regarding employment in a family business.

Peter Fray

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