A Kent paper boy who became famous last year for suing his local newsagent for unfair dismissal has had his claim thrown out on appeal.
Myles Bebbington, 15, was sacked from his £20 a week paper round 18 months ago after his employer, Jackie Palmer of Sturry News in Canterbury, asked him to come to work earlier at 6.30am.
His mother Denise tried to inform Mrs. Palmer about the ban on children working between 7pm and 7am, but Mrs. Palmer didn’t respond too well. The following Saturday she fired Myles.
“After we complained, the newsagent offered him his job back or to meet for a grievance meeting, which is what you’re supposed to do before you sack someone,” explains Mrs. Bebbington. “But she wanted to speak to Myles on his own, without us. And we didn’t want him working back down there anyway.
“So we decided to go to tribunal because the way he’d been treated wasn’t fair or right – he’d been dismissed unfairly.”
The tribunal said Myles had no contract of employment with Sturry News and concluded that “as the claimant was not employed, he cannot claim that he was dismissed unfairly or wrongfully.”
Myles’s father Mark was indignant. “I think it’s disgraceful that I have more rights at work than my child, yet children are more vulnerable and in need of protection. It’s amazing in this day and age – it’s almost Victorian.”
Professor Carolyn Hamilton, director of the Children’s Legal Centre, agrees. She believes UK employment law needs an overhaul. “The laws on children are unclear and inconsistent and regionally different, with a lot of local byelaws. In one part of the country a child can do a job that he or she couldn’t do elsewhere.
“In Coventry children are not allowed to work until 14, in most other areas they can work at 13. The European Union says they may work at 13 in light work, but this has not be clearly defined. Some of the bye-laws still say children can work at 10.
“There is huge opportunity for exploitation. Children have no sick pay, no minimum pay and no paid holiday. All of these issues could do with clarification.”
** Additional information & advice **
- Paperboy takes on child employment laws (Times)
- Newspaper boy loses unfair dismissal appeal (Kent Online)
- UK Child Employment Laws (Worksmart)
- Child Workers, The Rights & Wrongs (Guardian)
- Children’s Legal Centre
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