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Working Children Need Same Protection As Adults

Working Children Need Same Protection As Adults

Catholic social justice agency Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand says children who work need the same level of protection as adult workers doing similar tasks.

“This may sound obvious,” says Caritas research and advocacy officer Lisa Beech, “but for many working children it’s not happening.”

Caritas has published a report “Delivering the Goods”, detailing the findings of a survey on children delivering circulars and newspapers to household letterboxes. The survey included in-depth interviews with 30 children aged 10 to 16 doing delivery work, as a follow-up to a wider 2003 survey of children workers.

“While many children have good working experiences and value much of their working lives, the survey showed many areas of concern,” says Lisa Beech, “particularly when comparing children’s experiences with adult postal workers delivering to the same letterboxes.”

“We want to see a code of best practice for the employment of children in delivery work,” says Lisa Beech. “And we believe the single most important step to improve children’s working experiences would be to require that their employment status is that of employees rather than contractors.”

“There was a very marked difference between children employed directly as employees and those who had the status of self-employed contractors,” say Lisa Beech. “Children employed as employees were considerably better off. They received holiday and sick pay, age-appropriate relief workers, clothing and bike allowances, the most effective information and oversight of health and safety conditions, and the most direct contact with employers. In contracting situations, these employment rights were mostly absent.”

Caritas says a code of best practice needs to be developed by employers, unions and appropriate government agencies – working together with children employed in the industry and their parents.

Other concerns highlighted by the Caritas report include:

  • Little attention paid to health and safety concerns such as visibility and loads, particularly compared to adult postal workers. For example, adult postal workers must wear high visibility clothing because of traffic hazards, but such clothing is not supplied to or required of children performing the same task.

  • Contracts sighted generally show an unbalanced power relationship between employers and workers. For example, one contract had clear timeframes for delivery of material, but noted that children would be paid “approximately monthly”. Some contracts lack key information such as pay rates.

  • Although some companies have an informal age of entry to the workforce of between 10 and 12 years, this is not communicated formally on material supplied to workers. Children are sometimes asked to find their own substitute workers for illness or absence. In many cases, children pay siblings as young as 6 to do this work for them. There appears to be no monitoring of the age of substitute or support workers by companies.

  • Most children have little to do with their employers, and in some cases never meet them. Most day-to-day oversight and supervision of children’s work is abdicated to parents.

  • Pay rates are very low, with an effective hourly rate among children in the survey of between $1.67 and $6.25.

Lisa Beech says that children spoken to had very strong involvement by other family members. Parents take on a range of tasks from assisting with the initial contract, helping with folding and delivery, providing day-to-day supervision, providing appropriate clothing and equipment, responding to injuries and problems, and helping resolve complaints.

“However, employers should not assume that all children working in the industry will have the same level of supervision and support as the children in our survey, and we do not believe that the industry should be abdicating these responsibilities to parents.”

Caritas’s work on children’s employment experiences results from considering repeated requests by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child for the New Zealand government to review its reservation on establishing a minimum age of employment, and to review and strengthen children’s employment rights.

Caritas believes the industry should not be employing children under 10 – either directly or indirectly - and that the employment of 10 to 12-year-olds requires a great deal more protection and oversight than is the case at present.

“New Zealand government reports have frequently stated that working children are adequately protected by our existing legislation,” says Lisa Beech. “Caritas believes this position is based on very little information about children’s actual working experiences, as there appears to be little oversight by the Department of Labour, or involvement by unions or other community organisations.”

“Any industry based on child labour, no matter how willing the participants, has a very high level of moral responsibility to ensure that they are well-treated. Children are our most vulnerable workers. They deserve at least the same protection as that received by adults.”

ENDS

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