Looking out for children

Last updated 07:31 08/11/2012

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OPINION: On October 18 I had the pleasure and privilege of having my private members bill pulled out of the ballot box, writes Rino Tirikatene (Labour) in From the Beehive.

The Employment Relations (Protection of Young Workers) Amendment Bill aims to bolster protections for our youth workers and to also make some common sense out of the current act.

You would be surprised to learn, as I was, the kid who delivers all that junk into our boxes as well as the local rag, is treated under employment law as an independent contractor and so is responsible for managing his taxes, make ACC payments and employ his own sub-contractors, which in most cases is mum or dad in a car and a brother or sister on the other side of the street. I know plenty of adults who can't manage the exact same things. I've also read reports some of these kids are being paid as little as $2 or $3 per hour.

That's unacceptable and the bill aims to give greater protection to those 16 years of age and under.

If they do work for remuneration they must be fairly paid and have the same employment protection as any working New Zealander.

I want to send the right kind of message to our kids. Labour values hard-working Kiwis, no matter what age they are. This bill gives young Kiwis the right to be treated fairly, as well as rights to personal grievance, to written agreements, and other employment entitlements.

It would be nice to think these kids and their families are out there in all sorts of weather delivering these things, so as to put their pay towards a future university education. The reality is times are tough and I think the meagre amount of money these kids bring into their household is greatly appreciated by their mums and dads. It's not for education, it's for milk on the Weet-Bix and marg for the toast.

It is ironic that I've taken the time to draft this letter over the Labour Day holiday weekend. Without getting into a history lesson, Labour Day is a commemoration of hard-fought-for rights for the worker. We as New Zealanders have a unique place in the history of workers' rights and unionism.

Ironic in that those early labour laws gave protection to children who were employed and exploited as bit boys in coal mines or as chimney sweeps and other such horrendous jobs. There are new challenges late in 2012 and I look forward to progressing the amendment to the act through Parliament.

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» Rino Tirikatene is the MP for Te Tai Tonga.

- The Southland Times

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