MP moves to curb abuse of child labour

30th January 1998 at 00:00
Proposals aim to limit the hours children can work, reports Nicholas Pyke

The booming market in illegal child labour comes under serious assault in a new private member's Bill which would cut the hours children are legally allowed to work by a third.

Chris Pond, the new Labour MP for Gravesham, Kent, wants to limit all school-aged children to 12 hours work a week, bringing British law into line with the rest of Europe.

Pupils would need permits to work and employers who broke the law would face fines of Pounds 1,000 or more. Education authorities would be expected to prosecute the more serious offenders.

There are an estimated 1.7 million children working in the UK. Statistics suggest that three-quarters do so illegally, with as many as one third suffering an accident of some form while at work.

The Bill, which will go before Parliament next month, is supported by children's charities such as Save the Children, as well as the National Federation of Retail Newsagents and the trades union movement.

"The proposals are not aimed to prohibit employment," said Mr Pond. "We want to make sure that cowboy employers don't put children at risk.

"Very often children are being used as cheap labour. Some are paid Pounds 1 an hour for doing the same job as adults in retailing or catering."

Mr Pond said British child workers accounted for a third of the total in the EU. Many European countries ban child working outright.

British 14-year-olds can work up to 20 hours a week and 13-year-olds for 17 hours. If school work and homework are thrown into the total, he says, children can be doing 63 hour weeks with damaging educational consequences.

Last year a survey by the Trades Union Congress found one in four working children was sometimes too tired to do school work.

"The current legislation dates back to 1933 and really doesn't meet the needs of children," said Mr Pond, formerly the director of the Low Pay Unit. "Three quarters of working children are already employed illegally, even as measured by the 1933 Act."

"There are also real questions about the impact of educational achievement. "

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