Child Labour In Godzone?
We’ve all seen images of children working in “sweatshop” factories for appalingly low wages. Mark Stephenson discovers that it doesn’t just happen overseas.
Unlike some other countries, we don’t have children engaged in forced labour in New Zealand. Nobody has to send their kids out to work so the family can make ends meet, right? Wrong, according to Caritas, the catholic social services agency.
Caritas found that children are working to support their families. A study in 2003 found that the lower decile the school, the more likely working kids were to give the money over to their parents. Some are as young as eleven.
In one case, children worked as cleaners for $2 an hour. In their survey, Caritas identified many children as young as ten who are being taxed. ACC has records of children as young as eight sustaining workplace injuries.
Inland Revenue has 85,600 children (under 16 years of age) registered for tax purposes. If a child earns more than a paltry $1042 they are taxed.
The number of children paying tax has increased 20% in the last five years, and is still growing. Not only that but the hours these children work is increasing. These figures do not include those working for cash, or under the tax threshold.
It seems that young workers can be taxed but are not protected by employment law. There is no minimum wage. There is no limit on the hours a child can be employed. Children do not know their rights as employees, or they are so young they couldn’t be expected to understand them.
Businesses can employ a child at a low rate of pay, and in worse conditions, than a person over 16. Kids who work a lot of hours may be doing so at the expense of their education.
Are they even protected by legislation concerning sexual harassment, or smoking exposure in the workplace? According to Lisa Beech, of Caritas, Health and Safety Legislation “does apply to children.”. “The problem is that children are not informed.
There is no official monitoring of workplace problems. However, parents can make a complaint to the Occupational Safety and Health Dept if they know that their child is in danger at work.” she says.
We have all done paper rounds, or picked fruit in the season.
It was cash, or tax free, and we did it for pocket money, not because the family relied on us for income. There are some good things about working as a child. You learn how to gain money from personal effort. You learn to contribute to society with your labour.
A child can enjoy the thrill of some small financial independence. Surely though, if someone works and pays tax, they should have rights and protection as an employee.
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