Nadir seeks to clarify child labour issue
At the opening ceremony for the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Annual General Meeting on Wednesday afternoon, Minister of Labour, Manzoor Nadir made an attempt to remove the cloud of confusion surrounding his recent remarks with reference to lowering the age of employment under certain conditions.
He said, “In Guyana we do not have a serious problem with child labour, but we have an enormous potential for child labour because of truancy.”
The Minister took the opportunity to address the difference between child labour and child work, prevention of child labour and the possibility of lowering the age for the employment of young persons under certain conditions.
He said that there are four forms of child labour: children in slavery, debt bondage, child soldiers and the grey area of working in a family business or farm and not being able to access the basic rights that every child should have, such as the right to an education.
The issue of child labour deals with the legal age of entry into the work force. At present that age is 15 in Guyana.
In 1994, the Government introduced legislation in line with Convention 182 of the International Labour Organization, which through reference to another article of legislation, namely the Recommendation concerning the Minimum Age for Admission to Employment, 1973, states that the minimum age of entry into the workforce must be higher than the legal school leaving age.
According to Nadir, the public conception of his call for lowering the age of employment under certain conditions has been misconstrued as a move to lower the age where children can drop out of school and go to work. It is nothing of the sort, he said.
Nadir said that in many countries the world over, such as the UK, children over the age of 12 are allowed to work for one hour before and after school, but not during school hours. They are also allowed to work for up to eight hours on weekends.
It is prohibited, however, to employ these children in any location that exposes them to toxic or hazardous materials, dangerous implements and machinery, drugs or pornographic material of any sort, or to have them work beyond certain hours.
The Minister said that the “light work” to which he has been referring is normally considered jobs like a paper route, packing supermarket shelves or customers’ bags or filing/receptionist duties in offices.
When asked if he had any intentions of increasing the size of the Ministry’s inspectorate, should the age limit be changed as he indicated, the Minister would only reveal that his current staff is about 30.
He did state, however, that his Ministry is currently engaged in specific training for inspectors in the area of child labour and that the focus is not on the number of inspectors but rather on the tools with which they are equipped.