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Young people and employment

By Adam Tinson

With many young people having part-time work over the summer holidays or during their studies, it is important to consider their rights.

The legislation which establishes the law for children and young people in this area is the Employment of Children Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1996. A child is defined as someone under the minimum school leaving age (currently 16) and a young person is anyone under 18.

This legislation sets out a large number of restrictions on when and what children can be employed to do, and these vary to some extent depending on the age of the child. If the child is under the age of 13, then they cannot be employed at all in most cases. From the age of 13 until the school leaving age of 16, only certain types of work are permitted, and only then with written parental consent to the child’s employment. These are office work, working as a shop assistant or in hospitality (except in kitchens), delivering newspapers or groceries, domestic work, or light agricultural work for the child’s parents. If any of the above are based on premises licensed for the selling of alcohol, betting or gaming, then the child cannot be employed on them. The nature of the work must be such that it will not pose a risk to the safety, health, development or school attendance of the child in question.

From when a child is legally able to work (13), to the minimum school leaving age of 16, they must not work:

  • During school hours on a school day
  • For more than two hours on a school day
  • For more than 12 hours on a week in which they must attend school
  • For longer than an hour before school; or before 7am or after 7pm
  • For more than two hours on a Sunday
  • During the summer holidays (1st July to 31st August) without two weeks continuous holiday
  • Without suitable protective clothing and footwear if they are to work outside.

For children aged between 13 and 14 inclusive:

  • The number of hours that can be worked is capped at five on a Saturday or non-school day
  • The maximum number of hours that can be worked in a week is 27
  • Must be allowed a rest period of three consecutive hours in each twelve hour period
  • be allowed one hour for meals and rest after four hours continuous work on a Saturday, after three hours continuous work on any other day

Additionally, if the child is between 15 and 16, the number of hours that can be worked increases to eight hours on a Saturday or school holiday and 37 hours in a week during the school holidays. After four hours continuous work, the child must be allowed an hour for meals and rest.

After the minimum school leaving age at 16 but under the age of 18, young workers are required to have:

  • at least twelve hours of rest consecutively between each working day
  • two days of rest in every working week
  • a thirty minute rest break when working for longer than 4.5 hours.

Furthermore, these young workers cannot work between 10pm and 6am unless specifically contracted to work after 10pm, and even then between 11pm and 7am is prohibited (there are some exceptions for those working in hospitals, agriculture, retail trading, hotels, catering and bakeries). Only in very exceptional circumstances can a young worker be required to work between midnight and 4am.

For children there is no legal entitlement to paid leave, but for young workers (those over the minimum school leaving age), the entitlement to statutory paid leave is the same as any other employee at 5.6 weeks if they are full time. From the age of 16, a young person qualifies for the National Minimum Wage which is currently £3.64 for people under 18.

For more information about young people’s rights contact your local CAB or the Children’s Law Centre on their CHALKY Helpline at 0808 808 5678 (Freephone) or at

Adam Tinson is an Information and Policy Officer with Citizens Advice.

Belfast Telegraph


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