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Friday, February 13, 1998 Published at 10:34 GMT



UK: Politics

Child workers bill likely to fail
image: [ A survey by the Low Pay Unit found many employers are breaking existing child labour protection law ]
A survey by the Low Pay Unit found many employers are breaking existing child labour protection law

A backbench bill designed to stop schoolchildren being exploited by employers is being debated in the House of Commons.

However, it looks unlikely to become law despite evidence of widespread breaches of the current restrictions.

Estimates indicate that about 2 million children of school-age are employed in Britain. This accounts for almost a third of the working children throughout the European Union countries.

The new bill would prevent under-16s from working more than 12 hours a week. This limit is half the present legal maximum, but in line with the rest of the EU.

Employers would also be banned from allowing children to work between 7pm and 7am, or for more than one hour before the start of a school day.


[ image: The bill would  ban children from working for more than one hour before the start of a school day]
The bill would ban children from working for more than one hour before the start of a school day
Although the Government is known to be sympathetic, the bill, which is getting its second reading, is not expected to become law because of a lack of parliamentary time.

However, its sponsor, the Labour MP Chris Pond, a former Director of the Low Pay Unit (LPU), says the restrictions are long overdue.

According to the research published earlier this week by the LPU about 40% of school age children have some form of part-time employment, excluding baby sitting and running errands.

The study suggests that about 75% of this employment is illegal, even judged by the standards of 1933, the date of the most recent national legislation.

The LPU survey of more than 1,000 school pupils in the north east uncovered cases of young children employed for 33p an hour, and working up to 29 hours a week.

The study found that of the children employed:

  • 25% were under the legal working age of 13
  • 44% had suffered injury at work in the last year
  • one in ten injuries was serious enough to require treatment
  • 14% worked for more than 12 hours a week.

    Mr Pond's bill is backed by actor Julia Watson, who plays Dr Baz in the BBC medical drama programme Casualty.

    She said the series had recently done an episode featuring an accident involving a 13-year-old boy working long hours in a sweatshop and playing truant from school to earn money for his poor family.

    "I thought at the time the story line was rather melodramatic. Having read the report from the Low Pay Unit, I realised the researcher had done a very good job," said Ms Watson.
     





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