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Explained: New child labour laws in US state lets teens work six hours a day

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Controversial new child labour laws – that allow school-going 14- and 15-year-old children to work six hours a day and permit those over 16 to serve alcohol in restaurants — came into effect in the American state of Iowa came into effect on July 1. The Iowa legislature passed the bill — backed only by Republicans – in May and it was signed into law by the state’s Republican governor, Kim Reynolds.

Iowa joins nearly two dozen other states — several ruled by the Republicans – in loosening, or trying to loosen, child labour laws in responses to complaints by restaurants, shops and other businesses about the lack of ‘reliable employees’. Ohio approved a similar bill earlier this year and Minnesota is considering a proposal that will see 16- and 17-year-old children work on construction sites.

Arkansas and Tennessee have enacted laws as well, citing a ‘desperate need for extra workers’.

“With this legislation Iowa joins 20 other states in providing tailored, common-sense labour provisions that allow young adults to develop their skills in the workforce,” Reynolds said.

What does Iowa’s new bill allow?

According to American broadcaster CNN, the law allows adults to employ 14- and 15-year-old children for six hours per day even if school is in session; previously they could only work four hours a day. In addition, they can now also work in some hazardous/industrial jobs – like in meat coolers.

Employment in these industries were forbidden under the earlier law.

Boys and girls aged 14 and 15 can now also work till 11 pm during the summer.

Children aged 16 and 17 can now serve alcohol in restaurants; this is despite the legal drinking age in Iowa being 21. Employers, however, must have parental consent and two adults need to be present at all times. The latter provision was a bipartisan amendment to the original bill.

Children over 16 will not have limits on how long they may work.

Changes in Iowa’s child labour laws also mean children can operate extremely dangerous heavy machinery – like power saws – the Associated Press reported.

Criticism of Iowa’s new law

Those supporting the revised child labour laws claim this will give ‘greater job opportunities for teens’, while those against have warned of exploitation of children and a lack of focus on education.

“We must not forget that children and youth are our future,” Todd Taylor, a Democrat, said in April. “They deserve to be protected, educated and given the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Republican Adrian Dickey has stressed the law doesn’t mean children will be forced into ‘slave labour’ and claimed ‘we’re not even requiring them to work’. “What we’re doing is providing them opportunities to have a job during the same time of day already allowed to classmates…”

What does the US government say?

An investigation by the US Department of Labour in May found fast food franchises in Kentucky violated child labour laws by using children as young as 10 for unpaid labour till 10 pm.

An investigation in February found over 100 children illegally employed in a meat factory; they were found to be working with dangerous chemicals and equipment, including saws.

Explained: New child labour laws in US state lets teens work six hours a day

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