Florida seeing spike in child labour as Republican states across the country push to remove barriers

A number of Republican-led states spent their most recent legislative sessions relaxing child labour laws — while one state is already experiencing a rise in child labour cases.

A report from WFTV in Orlando published Wednesday suggests that central Florida is already seeing a spike in child labour cases that dates back to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The nature of the cases reportedly range in scope and seriousness from having children working too many hours on school days to operating heavy machinery and beyond.

“From [fiscal years] 2020 until 2022, we have seen more child labor that we had seen from 2011 to 2020,” Department of Labor District Director Wildalí De Jesús told WFTV.

The Covid pandemic began in 2020 and upended the labour market — causing the service economy to contract and then leaving a number of employers without adequate staff when lockdown measures were relaxed and consumption habits returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Still, the data shows an alarming trend in the illegal exploitation of minors in the workforce at a time when states across the country are working to roll back child labour laws that are a longstanding legacy of the children’s rights and labour movements.

Already this year, numerous GOP-led states including Missouri, Ohio, Arkansas, and Iowa have passed laws weakening child labour laws — allowing companies to hire children without work permits and making it legal for them to working longer hours in more dangerous conditions.

The push to weaken child labour laws has reportedly been led by a Florida-based think tank, the Foundation for Government Accountability, which drafted the model legislation for states to use to roll back their child labour protections.

The data from Florida is not entirely clear on several points, including how many of the children in question are undocumented immigrants. In her comments to WFTV, Ms De Jesús said parents are not always in a position to know the exact details of the work their children are doing and how it aligns with child labour law.

“We’re seeing a trend of much younger children… because sometimes the children don’t know what they’re supposed to do or not supposed to do,” Ms De Jesús told the television station. “A lot of times parents don’t know either. They may assume that it’s safe or that [the child is] working the correct hours and that there’s no limitations, but there are.”

Earlier this year, the Department of Labor reported a 68 per cent increase in the number of children illegally employed by US companies since 2018. A number of those children may be undocumented migrants.

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