New laws to stop children working urged

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The Independent Online
LABOUR and the Conservatives clashed yesterday over the employment of children as Ann Clwyd detailed cases of children working illegally, and in some cases being injured, while Gerald Malone, Minister for Health, accused her of 'reinventing the nanny state'.

Following a survey of more than 30 local authorities, Mrs Clwyd, Labour's health spokeswoman, called for tougher laws and stricter enforcement of child labour legislation. She described the illegal employment of young people as 'the modern-day equivalent of sending children up chimneys'.

Her report showed 15-year-olds working in cheese factories from 4pm to midnight; children delivering milk through the night; 12- year-olds working in clothes factories after school; 8-year-olds delivering free newspapers for their parents; an 8-year-old peeling prawns in a fish processing plant and pupils working as waiters and waitresses on licensed premises.

In North Tyneside, final-year pupils were found working in 10 out of 13 employment categories prohibited by the by-laws, almost a quarter of a sample of 281 reporting an accident at work.

In Hampshire, employers have been prosecuted after a 15-year-old injured her arm at a meat processing company, a 14-year-old caught his fingers in a chip-cutting machine in a fish and chip shop, and a 12-year-old cut his hand on a broken bottle while delivering milk.

Mrs Clwyd said she feared her findings were only the tip of the iceberg, and criticised the Government for opting-out of the EU directive that would have reduced the legal working hours for 13- to 15-year-olds from 17 a week to 12.

However, Mr Malone said: 'Here we have Labour reinventing the nanny state, aiming to clamp down on the ability of children to gain experience of the world at work. Of course we must make sure children are not exploited, but their employment is already very strictly regulated.'

Employers faced fines of up to pounds 1,000 for breaching statute and by-laws. 'It is senseless to complain about children hanging around on street corners with nothing to do and then make it difficult for them to be usefully employed,' he said.