Child employment watchdog on standby as worker shortage and school holidays collide

Victoria’s child employment regulator is on standby to support businesses and says there is no need for bosses to take shortcuts when employing children under the age of 15 these Christmas school holidays.

Monday, 13 December 2021 at 7:00 pm

Wage Inspectorate Victoria believes the upcoming school holidays could lead some short-staffed businesses to overlook child employment laws in a rush to fill vacant positions – potentially placing young, inexperienced workers in harm’s way.

The Wage Inspectorate is on-hand to provide free advice, support and resources to businesses wanting to employ children under 15.

In Victoria, employers need a permit before a child under 15 years of age can be employed, although there are some exemptions, such as for children employed in family businesses. Permits are free, and the online application process to receive one is fast and straightforward.

The permit system protects children from work that could harm their health, safety or wellbeing. It enables the Wage Inspectorate to ensure matters like hours of work, rest breaks, supervision and safety are properly considered before employment starts, and to check compliance with any permit conditions that are imposed to keep a child safe.

Permits are particularly important in times of high seasonal demand around school holidays and Christmas.

If an employer fails to apply for a child employment permit, the Wage Inspectorate can’t assess whether the proposed employment could put the child at risk.

Businesses found to be breaching child employment laws can face consequences ranging from formal warnings to prosecution, where fines of up to $18,174 per breach for companies and $10,904 for individuals can be imposed.

A travelling circus and a fashion company were recently fined and ordered to pay costs after pleading guilty to breaking child employment laws.

The Wage Inspectorate is also urging employers to pay their young workers correctly and seek information from the Fair Work Ombudsman if they are unsure of the correct pay rates for children.

Employers, parents and children can visit the Wage Inspectorate Victoria website for information on child employment and wage theft laws or call the Wage Inspectorate’s Helpline on 1800 287 287.  

Quotes attributable to Andrew Edwards, Acting Deputy Commissioner, Wage Inspectorate Victoria

“Kids on school holidays can help fill jobs and the experience can be invaluable for them. It’s win–win, so we’re here to give businesses the support they need to employ children under 15 safely.”

“Christmas crowds are descending on stores and hospitality venues, and we know some businesses are desperate to fill jobs. While most businesses are doing the right thing, we’re concerned some employers may rush to fill roles with kids on school holidays without first getting a child employment permit.”

“We recently prosecuted a company that hired a 13-year-old who ended up spending 10 days in the Royal Children’s Hospital because of a workplace accident. They hadn’t applied for a permit, so we couldn’t assess the potential danger of the work – it’s a scenario we’re desperate to avoid this Christmas.”

“All workplaces have risks, and these are magnified for an employee who is under 15 and inexperienced, so speak with one of our child employment officers to get the information you need to create a safe workplace for kids.”