UK local by-laws relating to children working outside of school hours may contravene European legislation on child labour, it has emerged. According to a report from the European Committee on Social Rights or ECSR, some children in the UK are being allowed to work “excessive” numbers of hours.
UK-wide legislation is in line with EU law on the subject. It allows children to work during term time for a maximum of twelve hours in one week. They may work no more than two hours on a school day or a Sunday, and they cannot start any earlier than 7am nor finish later than 7pm.
However, local by-laws can mean that the rules are effectively different in certain parts of the country, and in some areas the rules are somewhat looser. In a number of areas, children from the age of 13 can work as long as the labour they are engaged in is only “light.” Carrying out a paper round before school – which can commonly begin as early as 6am – is one of the most prominent types of job which falls into this “light work” category and is often given to children.
However, while the ECSR’s report does not dispute that this qualifies as light work, it also finds that it “ceases to be [light] if it is performed for an excessive duration.” Under some local laws, children are being allowed to carry out such work for hours which are indeed, under European law, excessive.
The rules on child labour form part of the European Social Charter – a legally binding document to which all subscribed nations are required to adhere. The ECSR – which is not part of the European Union but rather the Council of Europe – is tasked with monitoring how the charter is applied by each individual country. In the case of children working in some parts of the UK, the ECSR finds, the charter is not being applied correctly at all.
The report says, for instance, that “allowing children aged 15 years, still subject to compulsory education, to deliver newspapers from 6am for up to two hours per day, five days per week before school is not in conformity with the charter.”
It is not just work before school that the ECSR was concerned about, but also work carried out in school holidays. Outside of term time, UK law allows children aged 13-14 years to work up to five hours a day Monday-Saturday and two hours on Sunday up to a maximum of 25 hours per week· 15-16-year-olds may work up to eight hours Monday-Friday and two hours on Sunday, up to a maximum of 35 hours per week.
The ECSR was concerned this, too, could be considered excessive, and said that excessive working hours for children can put “their health, moral welfare or education” at risk. In their report, they suggested that UK children be given one fortnight-long break from all work during school holidays per calendar year.