Changes in child employment laws: impact on licensing, volunteering, entertainment and non-profit organisations

Organisations that engage children in Victoria should prepare for changes in child employment laws which were introduced on 1 July 2023.

The Child Employment Act 2003 (Vic) (Act) applies to employers that engage children in paid or unpaid work. The amendments introduce a requirement for certain employers to obtain a licence, extend coverage of the Act to a broader range of work performed by children (including unpaid work in non-profit organisations), and create additional obligations for children engaged in the entertainment industry.

The extensive changes have the potential to impact the paid and unpaid engagement of children in non-profit, religious, sport and recreation and the entertainment sectors, among many others, with new or increased penalties for breaches of the Act.

This article provides a high-level summary of the reforms with a focus on changes to the permit system, the Act’s extension to unpaid work, and new obligations in the non-profit and entertainment sectors.

A new licence system

From 1 July 2023, the existing permit system will be replaced with a licence system. A licence will be required by organisations, including non-profit organisations, where the child is aged under 15 years, is subject to directions about how their work is to be performed, and:

  • the organisation engages a child for the benefit of the organisation or a person involved in the organisation;
  • the work is paid or unpaid, or the child receives some other reward for performing the work; and
  • the work is not excluded under the Act, including but not limited to:
    • work performed for the child’s parent or guardian in a family business;
    • participation in a church, religious service, or religious program;
    • work in relation to a low-risk sporting activity such as coaching, refereeing or umpiring;
    • tutoring or domestic duties such as babysitting; and
    • a school work experience arrangement regulated by the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic).[1]

Employers will only be required to hold one licence (which is free) and will no longer require separate permits for each child. Employing a child without a licence is a criminal offence which can attract penalties of up to 1200 penalty units for a body corporate (currently $230,772) and 240 penalty units for an individual (currently $46,154.40).

However, if employers already hold a permit for a child, those permits will remain valid after 1 July 2023, and a licence will not be required for that child.

Licence holders are required to comply with the Child Safe Standards (see our article here summarising the Child Safe Standards). Since 1 January 2023, Wage Inspectorate Victoria is the sector regulator for enforcing the Child Safe Standards.

Broader application to work with non-profit organisations and volunteering

Prior to 1 July 2023, the Act applied where an employer engaged a child to perform work:

  • under a contract of service or contract for services (whether written or unwritten), or
  • in a business, trade or occupation carried on for profit, whether or not the child received payment or reward for that work.

The definition of ‘employment’ under the Act has been expanded to cover work performed by a child other than under a contract of service or contract for services (whether written or unwritten) in a non-profit organisation:

  • for the benefit of the non-profit organisation or a person involved in the non-profit organisation;
  • whether or not the child receives payment or other reward for performing that work;
  • where the child is subject to directions about how the child’s work is performed; and
  • where no exclusions apply.[2]

The changes may have the effect of capturing a broader range of work performed by children, including volunteer work for non-profit organisations in certain circumstances. Organisations that engage children in paid or unpaid work (particularly in the sport, recreation, education religious and entertainment sectors) should pay careful attention to the reforms.

New obligation to protect children in entertainment

The Act now requires a person who employs a child in entertainment to take reasonable steps to ensure that they are not subjected to any behaviour:

  • that unnecessarily isolates the child; or
  • that is likely to intimidate, threaten, frighten or humiliate the child (including but not limited to exposing a child to adult themes, including nudity, sex, cruelty, violence or drug use).[3]

Individuals and organisations in entertainment should ensure that they take reasonable steps to identify and minimise risk of harm to children, in addition to meeting their obligations under the Child Safe Standards. Limited guidance has been provided on what ‘reasonable steps’ are required.

New penalties and obligations in relation to age restrictions, engaging children and supervision

The Act introduces changes to age restrictions for child workers, limitations on when and for how long children can be engaged, and supervision requirements,[4] and penalties for breaches of those obligations.[5]

Wage Inspectorate Victoria also has new compliance powers to compel employers to comply with the Act, including the power to issue compliance notices for contraventions, require the production of information or documents, and issue infringement notices.

Age restrictions

From 1 July 2023, a child must be:

  • 11 years of age to deliver newspapers and advertising material;
  • 13 years of age to perform other work, including hospitality, retail, door to door fundraising, and delivering pharmaceutical products; or
  • employed in accordance with industry specific requirements if they are working in the entertainment industry, but there is no minimum age (see those requirements here).

There is no minimum age for engaging a child in a family business.

Limitations on when children can be engaged

The Act also expands restrictions on when and for how long children can engage in work:

  • Children are generally only permitted to work between 6:00am and 9:00pm and cannot work during school hours.
  • During school term, children are restricted to working a maximum of 3 hours per day and up to 12 hours per week.
  • During school holidays, children may work for longer – 6 hours per day and up to 30 hours per week.
  • Children must be provided with a 30 minute break after every 3 hours of work.
  • Children must not work for at least 12 hours between shifts.

Supervision of children

Supervisors of children under 15 years of age must:

  • be at least 18 years of age;
  • hold a Working With Children Check (unless the supervisor holds a valid exemption); and
  • be recorded by the employer as having supervised that child’s employment (which must now be retained for five years),

unless an exception applies.

How we can help

Organisations should carefully consider the impact of the changes on their operations and whether any exceptions apply. Our Workplace Relations and Safeguarding Teams can provide advice on whether the changes impact on your paid and volunteer arrangements, whether you are required to hold a licence, and what you need to do to safely and lawfully engage children as workers and volunteers.

Contact us

Please contact us for more detailed and tailored help.

Subscribe to our email updates and receive our articles directly in your inbox.

Disclaimer: This article provides general information only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. You should seek legal advice regarding the application of the law to your organisation.

[1] This list is not exhaustive. [2] Child Employment Act 2003 (Vic) s 4(2) and 4A. [3] Child Employment Act 2003 (Vic) s 14A. [4] Breaches can attract penalties of can attract penalties of up to 1200 penalty units for a body corporate (currently $230,772) and 240 penalty units for an individual (currently $46,154.40). [5] Breaches of the Act can attract penalties of up to 1200 penalty units for a body corporate (currently $230,772) and 240 penalty units for an individual (currently $46,154.40).