Speaking in the lead up to World Day Against Child Labour (Wednesday 12 June), Professor Rosemary Owens from the University of Adelaide’s School of Law says Australia’s position on a minimum age for workers has become an “international embarrassment”.
“Australia is one of only 20 member countries that have not yet signed the Minimum Age Convention of 1973, which underpins the International Labour Organization’s (ILO’s) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. This is one of the conventions established by the ILO which ensures that countries are committed to the effective abolition of child labour,” says Professor Owens.
Professor Owens is an internationally regarded labour law expert who sits on the Committee of Experts for the ILO, a special agency of the United Nations that works to promote decent working standards and conditions throughout the world.
“The UK and all countries in Europe have signed the convention, as have most of the developed and developing nations of the world, with notable exceptions being Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada. For developed nations, this convention sets the minimum working age at 16 years,” Professor Owens says.
“When we talk about child labour, most people think of problems in the developing or Third World. However, in the developed world there are wide gaps in the regulation of child labour -and Australia, which does not have uniform laws on this issue State by State, is a perfect example of this.”
Professor Owens says South Australia still does not have laws that regulate child labour.
“The South Australian government has been talking about this issue for years but so far we have not seen a concrete resolution from either side of politics,” Professor Owens says. “Most other Australian States have some form of child labour laws, and some of them are strong laws, but the regulations are not standardised from one State to the other.
“In South Australia, regulations prevent school-aged children from being employed at a time when they are supposed to be going to school. However, that does not stop children from working out of school hours and then being unable to go to school the next day because they’re too tired to do so.
“This is just one example, but it shows that a lack of legal framework around child labour can put children at risk, preventing them from leading healthy, happy lives and completing their education.”
Professor of Law
The University of Adelaide
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