Safe enough? The working experiences of New Zealand children
‘Serious work in social legislation begins always with the protection of children’ Albert Thomas, first director of the ILO (ILO, 1931: i) The experience of New Zealand children in their working lives is a traditionally under researched area; where existing investigations have been primarily promulgated from the NGO sector (ACYA 2003; CARITAS 2007, 2003) with children recounting their working experiences. Concerns indicated from these findings include the lack of legislative protection of children, particularly in the areas of minimum age for work, minimum wage, and health and safety. Therefore, the dominant themes of this thesis include the political economy of children’s work; domestic and international policy debate about the appropriate regulatory role of institutions and legislation; as well as the fairness and equity of children’s employment and occupational health and safety. Many themes were covered during interview with key stakeholders in the government and non-governmental advocacy areas. Further, key findings are presented from survey and interview data of young adults reflecting on their working lives as children. Working conditions varied widely according to industry and type of work, where the best working conditions were those provided by relatives or family friends. Young people were generally positive about their workplace experiences, but some dangerous and illegal trends were identified. These findings also challenge the assumption of successive governments and regulatory authorities that children are ‘adequately’ protected by current legislation and practice. While there continues to be discourse regarding New Zealand’s ratification of some United Nations and International Labour Organisation protocols relating to protecting children in their working lives, little debate relates to the lack of domestic legislative and monitoring capacity in this worrying area of the labour market. Therefore, the central aim of this study is to inform discussion on children’s work, identify strategies to strengthen the protection of child workers, and outline future areas of research.