Travelling circus pleads guilty in court, ordered to pay $21,000 for failure to obtain permits for employment of child acrobats

A travelling circus has pleaded guilty in the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria to breaking child employment laws and been ordered to pay $21,000 in fines and costs, following a prosecution by Wage Inspectorate Victoria. 

Wednesday, 13 October 2021 at 4:25 am

Circus Royale Australia Pty Ltd (Circus Royale) pleaded guilty to three charges, admitting it had breached section 9(1) of the Child Employment Act 2003 by employing three 13-year-old Chinese nationals as acrobats without a mandatory child permit in place for their employment.

The children were away from their families and had been performing across multiple cities.

The Wage Inspectorate investigated Circus Royale after it was alerted to one of the children spending 10 days in the Royal Children’s Hospital suffering brain bruising and concussion after being hit by a trapeze.

In sentencing, his Honour Magistrate Foster said it was ‘perplexing’ that the company, which has been operating in Australia for about 50 years, didn’t apply for permits given it had done so before.

His Honour also stated that general deterrence looms large in cases like this to guard against when an employer doesn’t apply for a permit and child employment officers are unable to consider a range of factors, including potential health and safety risks.

The company narrowly escaped conviction, with his Honour acknowledging its good character and the absence of prior convictions.  

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

Quotes attributable to Robert Hortle, Commissioner of Wage Inspectorate Victoria

"This case shows the Wage Inspectorate doesn’t mess around when it comes to the welfare of children in the workplace. The Wage Inspectorate will take action to investigate and enforce compliance with the law. Victorians expect nothing less."

"This is a textbook example of why businesses need a permit before a child starts work. It gives our officers the chance to assess and examine proposed workplace arrangements, to identify risks and step-in before someone is hurt, like this child was at Circus Royale."

"This is one of the most serious cases we’ve seen. A vulnerable child, thousands of kilometres away from his family, ended up in hospital with serious injuries, before it was discovered that child employment rules weren’t followed."

"We understand the challenges the pandemic has imposed to businesses over the last 20 months, but we can’t turn a blind eye to companies that avoid child employment laws – the stakes are simply too high."

Background on Victoria’s child employment laws

The Child Employment Act 2003 (Act) is a Victorian law that regulates the employment of children under the age of 15 years and aims to protect them from work that could harm their:

  • health and safety
  • moral or material welfare
  • development
  • attendance at school
  • capacity to benefit from instruction.

Under the Act a person must not employ a child under 15, other than in a family business unless a permit has been issued for the employment - this applies to both paid and unpaid work. Failure to obtain a permit is an offence that carries a maximum penalty of 100 penalty units ($18,174 as of 1 July 2021).

Wage Inspectorate Victoria enforces state laws covering child employment, wage theft, long service leave, and independent contractors in the transport and forestry sectors.