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Half a million illegal child workers in the UK

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Nearly half a million (485,000) schoolchildren are working illegally, according to a new TUC/MORI survey out on Wednesday. And over 100,000 schoolchildren admit to playing truant in order to do paid work.

Class struggles, a survey of 2,500 schoolchildren in England and Wales, reveals nearly half a million children are working illegally. It is against the law for any child under 13 to do any kind of paid work, but the survey shows that one in four – 289,000 – say they do. Thirteen year olds are only allowed to do paid jobs linked to ‘cultural, sporting, artistic or advertising work’ and even then only with a licence from their local authority. But 35 per cent of 13 year olds (196,574) said they were either working during term time or had worked in the last summer holidays. The vast majority worked as baby-sitters or had paper rounds, both of which are illegal.

On top of this, many more children are working longer hours than they are legally allowed to. No-one under 16 is allowed to work before 7am or after 7pm. But almost half (45%) of the working children questioned said they worked after eight at night, and 23% said they worked before six in the morning.

The MORI survey of 2,500 schoolchildren shows that illegal school age working has not declined since the last TUC survey four years ago, despite the introduction of the European Young Workers Directive, designed to tighten working time and ensure paid work did not have a negative impact on students’ school work.

The 2001 survey shows:

  • one in ten children admitted to playing truant in order to do paid work. Boys are more likely to skive off school for this reason than girls (12% as opposed to 5%).
  • one in four children (25%) under 13 admit to doing paid work either during term time or in the summer holidays, even though this is illegal. Just over a third of schoolchildren (36%) do some kind of paid work. The older children are, the more likely they are to have a job. Almost half (44%) 15 and 16 year olds are working.
  • children are also working illegal hours. Although, according to the European Young Workers Directive, no-one under 16 is allowed to work before 6am or after 8pm, 45% of children in paid work have worked after 8pm, while almost a quarter (23%) have worked before 6am.
  • term-time working negatively affects a significant proportion of schoolchildren – 29% of respondents said they often or sometimes felt too tired to do homework or school work.
  • the most common jobs are baby-sitting (37%) and paper rounds (35%), followed by cleaning (19%) and working in a shop (16%). Girls are most likely to have jobs as baby-sitters and boys are most likely to have paper rounds.
  • although one in ten (11%) schoolchildren say they earn more than £5 an hour, most are paid much less. Around a third (31.5%) earn £2.50 an hour or less. Nearly one in five (17%) of those working in term time get less than £2 an hour.

Although not all of the European Young Workers Directive has been brought into force, some key parts were introduced in June 2000, including:
  • children under 16 should not work more than two hours on a school day or 12 hours in any school week
  • during school holidays, children under 15 cannot work more than 25 hours a week and 15 year olds have a limit of 35 hours.

According to the TUC poll, 30% or 320,286 children with term time jobs said they did more than two hours a day. One in ten reported working more than five hours a day.

Local authorities have responsibility for enforcing these rights, but the TUC believes councils are not doing their jobs properly. The TUC would like to see more spot checks in workplaces to ensure unscrupulous employers are not taking advantage of schoolchildren.

TUC General Secretary, John Monks said: “It’s fine for kids to earn a bit of extra pocket money with a paper round or Saturday job. But it becomes a real problem if they are missing school and finding they can’t keep up with school or homework.

“The law exists to make sure children aren’t exploited and the TUC believes teenagers who work can gain a useful insight into working life. But in many cases, neither children or their parents, know what they are allowed to do – and it seems that many employers don’t know the law either.”

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