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Call to tighten regulations on child labour

The Scottish Office is being pressed to run a publicity campaign in the autumn, with local authority support, to encourage children who work to sign up for employment certificates.

The move follows a decision by the European Union to tighten regulations governing part-time work.

Teenagers aged between 13 and 16 are already required to register with a local authority if they are working, but few do, largely, it is claimed, because of ignorance. Councils are keen to stiffen procedures following serious breaches in the regulations.

The children's panel in Highland recently called on the education department to investigate incidents in which children were working illegally and without proper protection. In East Lothian, children aged 12 to 14 were assembling electrical appliances.

Highland's education committee was told last month that 170 permits were issued by divisional offices in 1995, representing just 2 per cent of the S2-S3 school population. An earlier survey in Inverness division revealed that 4 per cent had permits, although national estimates put the number of young people in part-time work at more than 40 per cent.

Authorities are restricted from acting against employers who abuse the regulations by a lack of resources, according to the GMB union. This is a view shared by Graeme Young, director of education in the new Falkirk council.

In a briefing paper for the education committee, Dr Young highlighted the burden imposed by proposed changes to local by-laws and questioned how they could be monitored and enforced.

"Great care will be required in framing and implementing by-laws to ensure that parents, young people and employers are not discouraged from notifying authorities of employment being undertaken and in seeking proper registration, " he told the council's education committee.

In Highland, one full-time and two part-time attendance officers are overstretched by their existing workload, the education committee heard. Jim Stevenson, depute director of education, said additional administrative and clerical staffing were required.

Dr Young added: "The administration of the suggested by-laws would be a major imposition on local authorities in terms of the procedures involved: vetting, monitoring, compliance, issue of employment cards. Young people with part-time jobs move around between jobs and the model by-law (proposed by the Government) requires a new notification and card issue every time this takes place. "

Local authorities are drawing together their final views on the proposed Scottish Office changes. Among the proposals are plans to relax the current restrictions on weekend working, changes to the "permitted list" of jobs for 13-year-olds and the introduction of a work-free period during the summer holidays.

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