Firms fined for child workers

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THE AVON cosmetics firm was fined yesterday after a court was told how children turned up for work at its factory in their school uniform.

Northampton Magistrates' Court heard the three young people - who cannot be named for legal reasons - were recruited by the Kelly agency for the "twilight" shift. Both firms were fined a total of pounds 3,750 after admitting three charges each of employing children in November last year and April this year. Under the 1996 Education Act, children are not allowed to work in a factory until after their GCSEs.

The court was told that the 16-year-olds had not yet taken their GCSEs and were employed on light duties in the Northampton firm's liquid cosmetics production line.

"They were putting lids on bottles, bottles into boxes, putting the boxes off the production line," Anne Wilson, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, told the court.

The law was there to protect young people's safety - as they were statistically more likely to have accidents - and their education, she said.

She said Kelly had recruited the children to work at Avon but the company made no inquiries about their ages.

"Sometimes they turned up in school uniform," she said.

The teenagers - who were paid pounds 3.70 an hour to work 5pm to 9pm Monday to Thursday - had not tried to deceive Kelly about their age. But the recruitment firm's in-house manual was wrong and had since been changed, the court was told.

Ron Reid, for Avon, told the court the teenagers were employed during busy periods before Christmas and Easter. He said Avon paid the same rate whatever the employee's age and the company had received no financial benefit from employing them.

After the case, Miss Wilson said: "Both firms were equally responsible. We would like other firms to take notice of this case. If a child is not old enough to take their GCSEs they cannot work in a factory."

Mr Reid, for Avon, described the case as "regrettable", but added: "This is not child labour. They were 16, employed in light duties and, but for a change in legislation, they would have been legally employed."

Kelly Services said it "regretted" recruiting the three teenagers, and new screening procedures were now in place to prevent a repetition.