Australian Retailers Association Reckons 13 Year Olds Should Be Put to Work Like It’s 1822

jobs and skills summit 2022

With the country apparently on the verge of collapse due to staffing shortages, one retail industry body has had a brilliant idea; put children to work.

Yes, a harkening back to the glory days of yore when infants would be hoisted up chimneys to earn their keep as soon as they were capable of handling a broom is exactly what this country needs, apparently.

The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) submitted the proposal to Anthony Albanese’s Jobs and Skills Summit, which is due to get underway on Thursday.

The summit is designed to bring together “unions, employers, civil society and governments, to address our shared economic challenges,” according to the Treasury. One of the key aims includes “expanding employment opportunities for all Australians,” and that, seemingly, includes pre-pubescent layabouts.

“An ideal model would be one where we allow 13-to-15-year-olds to work,” said ARA Chief Executive, Paul Zahra, reports news.com.au.

He added that this would need “sensible regulations in place around not working during school hours or at times that would impact a young person’s education.”

Zahra makes the point because Australia, being a federated system, has very different rules about child labour depending on the state or territory you’re in. Getting consistency across the board as to when young people can enter the job market is key, Zarha argues, to increasing productivity and tapping into potentially under-utilised pools of staff.

The ARA, representing a $400 billion sector employing 1.3 million Aussies, has said that retail is short around 40,000 staff at the moment, according to ABS data.

In their submission to the Jobs and Skills Summit, ARA notes that “Older Australians can play an important role in addressing the staffing challenge” but that impacts to pensions stop older people from working. Doubling the amount someone can earn before their pension payment is affected “would be a win all round,” ARA say, in “creating a more empowered pension group that will be mobilised to work.”

So, start work early, finish never. Sounds about right.

In response to the idea, Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles, has said that the government does not have any plan to start allowing 13-year-olds to enter the workforce in any serious capacity.

“We don’t want to pre-empt what’s coming out of the jobs and skills summit over the next couple of days, but that’s certainly not a plan that the government has in mind,” Marles said to Nine.

What Are the Minimum Age Requirements for Work in Australia?

While the above suggestion might seem, well, Victorian, turns out that Australia actually doesn’t have a lot of legal restrictions preventing children from working.

New South Wales, Tasmania, South Australia, the Northern Territory, and the Australian Capital Territory have no minimum age requirements for children to work, provided they are involved in “light work” that doesn’t impact on their education. There are also limits on the amount of hours a young person can do per week.

In Queensland and Victoria under-15s can work in certain circumstances, while in Western Australia only people over the age of 15 can participate in paid employment.

Coles, for example, one of the nation’s biggest retailers, will typically only accept people above the age of 15 for employment.

Surely we can figure out better ways of increasing national productivity that doesn’t involve children. Here’s hoping the Jobs and Skills summit comes up with something a bit more substantial.

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