Earlier this week, along with Moana Mackey and Carol Beaumont, I attended a Youth Forum in Gisborne organised by Young Labour, the NZCTU and local unions.
It was a wake-up call for those who were there to listen to the 40 or so young people – almost all of them still at school – talk about the issues facing them as they take on work. One young woman talked about how she thought her employer would go ballistic if she asked for a written employment agreement, even although the law says she is supposed to have one. Most of the young workers there didn’t have much of an idea about what they could expect from their employer and what their employer could expect from them. All were being paid less than minimum wage – because for workers under 16, there is no such thing.
I spent a bit of time talking to one young woman who delivers for the local newspaper. Her story was no different to the many thousands of other young people who are taken on as leaflet or newspaper deliverers, told they are independent contractors, and end up being paid a pittance.
NZ has a tradition of school-kids working for spare money and I’m sure many of did so in our youth. These days, Kiwi kids work on farms, in convenience stores, in fast food restaurants and retail outlets, and on the streets delivering advertising and newspapers. Kids are often eager to earn the money to buy extras. In some cases, their families need them to work to supplement family income to help make ends meet.
But children’s work in in NZ is very loosely regulated, and is out of step with the other first-world countries. There is no minimum age for employment in New Zealand. Our labour legislation defines an employee as “any person of any age”. But more concerning than that, there is no minimum age for a self-employed person or anyone else who performs work under independent or dependent contracts. In other words, a child can enter into an agreement as an independent contractor, where they have to pay their own ACC, GST and other tax, and where they are expected to understand their rights under commercial law.
The hours of work of young people tends to be much more closely regulated overseas, while NZ only has a general guideline that work hours should not be such that they endanger health & safety, and in the case of young people 15 and under, the hours should not interfere with school attendance.
Health and Safety legislation applies to young people working as employees under the Employment Relations Act, where generally kids under 15 should not undertake hazardous work and shouldn’t be employed between 10pm and 6am. But these rules don’t apply to kids working as contractors, such as newspaper and leaflet deliverers.
Statistics tell us that one child each year dies from a workplace accident and several hundred are seriously injured, and the working hours of many interfere with their educational progress.
Then there’s the National Government’s 90 day trial period and the obligation-free work of employers who employ children as contractors.
We need to discuss these questions :
- Should there be a minimum age of employment?
- Should there be minimum wage and standards for young people working?
- Should kids under 16 be able to be employed as contractors, without employment rights?
I’m assuming that no-one would want to regulate babysitting arrangements, lawn-mowing and odd jobs, but when our kids get into the corporate world, shouldn’t there be better standards?