Dáil Éireann - Volume 500 - 10 February, 1999
Adjournment Debate. - Young Persons Employment Act, 1996.
Ms Shortall Ms Shortall
Ms Shortall: Young people working late at night, trying to juggle studies with paid employment, have featured prominently in the media in recent days. On many visits to schools in my constituency, teachers and principals have raised this issue with me and their concerns are well founded. The practice of young people turning up for class an hour or two late, or sometimes not at all, because they were working the previous night is not acceptable.
We know all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and that is particularly pertinent for young people who are developing, growing, and trying to achieve exam results which will ensure them decent employment prospects as adults. On the “Marian Finucane” radio show last Monday, there was an interview with a young exam student who was in class from 9 a.m., rushed to work at 4 p.m., and returned home at 10 p.m. to eat dinner and do some homework. This hectic regime is not only extremely damaging to his education prospects but has health implications.
Some students cannot get up in time for school because of the late hours worked the previous evening, and countless others may as well not be there because they are so worn out from late night work that they cannot learn. Work experience can be extremely beneficial but it should not interfere with their studies. Work experience in transition year, weekend work, and summer jobs are all important in developing a work ethic among young people, preparing second level students for adult life, and giving them a measure of financial independence. Limited suitable employment, carried out during these times when it will not interfere with their schooling, should be encouraged and supported. In 1996 the House introduced important legislation which set down clear guidelines on the number of hours a young person can work. That Act, the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act, 1996, restricts night work to a time limit for young people. Those aged 14 to 15 cannot work beyond 8 p.m. and those aged 16 to 17 cannot work beyond 10 p.m. The Act also provides for regular rest periods for workers under 18 years of age. Each employer who employs young people must display a summary of the Act in the workplace and furnish young employees with a copy of it, but I wonder how many do that?
While these provisions are worthwhile, a large number of employers do not comply with them. Inspections under the Act take place only during regular office hours and only 11 inspectors are responsible for enforcing this and a host of other legislation. The figures prove the problem. In the first ten months of last year 667 inspections took place under the Act compared to 1,194 in the previous year. More inspections are urgently required. This means more inspectors are required and it is up to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to see they are appointed.
As our workforce expands, there is an urgent need to ensure this area is properly regulated. We owe it to our young people to remove the pressures on them to work long hours, which would be detrimental to their health and education. There is a responsibility on schools to ensure their pupils are made aware of the Act and are encouraged to report any transgressions.
Mr. T. Kitt Mr. T. Kitt
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. T. Kitt): I thank Deputy Shortall for raising this important matter on the Adjournment. I recall the debate on this matter. It took place when my party was in Opposition and during it many of the issues raised by the Deputy were discussed.
The Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act, 1996 came into operation on 2 January 1997. The Act was designed to protect the health of young workers and to ensure that work during the school year does not put a young person's education at risk.
When the Act came into operation, details of the legislation were sent to all post primary schools, the relevant trade unions and employer bodies, the main supermarket chains, petrol stations, hotels, restaurants and vintners associations, fast-food chains and youth organisations. Those details were also sent to third level institutions as well as education officers in the relevant student unions last year.
The Act sets minimum age limits for the employment of “children”, persons under the age of 16, and “young persons”, 16 and 17 year olds. It also sets rest intervals and maximum working hours, and prohibits the employment of under 18s on late night work. Employers must keep specified records of their workers who are under 18 years of age.
Breaches of the Act may come to the attention of my Department by way of complaint by an  individual employee or other concerned person or by routine inspections carried out by my Department's labour inspectorate. Inspectors have powers to enter places of work, question employers and employees and examine records. Since the Act came into operation in 1997 more than 2,000 such inspections have been carried out, and I note what the Deputy said about inspections.
Where it appears that an employer has failed to comply with the legislation, the matter is referred to my legal advisers to consider whether legal proceedings may be instituted against the employer concerned in respect of the alleged breach of the Act. Certain offences may be prosecuted by the trade union of which the employee is a member. A person found guilty of an offence is liable on summary conviction to a fine of up to £1,500 and a further £250 a day for a continuing offence.
It is also open to the parent or guardian of a child or a young person to present a complaint to a rights commissioner that an employer has contravened section 13, which relates to the preservation of existing rates of pay and conditions, or section 17, which relates to the refusal to co-operate with an employer in breaching the Act. For example, if an employee refuses to work after the time set down in the Act and is penalised by the employer for doing so, the case may be presented to a rights commissioner. An employer or employee may appeal to the Employment Appeals Tribunal from a recommendation of a rights commissioner.
Children under 16 may be employed by licence in cultural, artistic, sports or advertising work, which is not harmful to the safety, health or development of the child and does not interfere with the child's attendance at school. The licence sets out conditions about parental consent, supervision and education arrangements and the maximum working times and minimum breaks appropriate to different age groups.
There is a moral and legal obligation on employers to see that the law is upheld. There is also a responsibility on parents because before employing a young person or child an employer must see a copy of the birth certificate or other evidence of age and before employing under 16 year olds an employer must get the written permission of a parent or guardian.
At my initiative, a monitoring group was established to appraise the effectiveness of the legislation and to monitor its enforcement. The terms of reference of the group are to review the operation of the Act and to advise on how it might be better implemented. Following a suggestion by the group that the provisions of the legislation be better publicised, as a specific initiative, my officials contacted publicans in the Dublin area to remind them of their responsibilities as regards the employment of young people.
I am conscious of the recent reports in the media of schoolgoing students working beyond the permitted hours and I urge parents and  teachers who are aware of any breaches of the legislation to contact the employment rights section of my Department.
Dáil Éireann 500 Adjournment Debate. Young Persons Employment Act, 1996.