While Australia struggles with COVID-induced supply chain snarls, allowing people younger than 18 to operate forklifts isn’t the solution, the Prime Minister has said.
Speaking on Thursday afternoon, Prime Minister Scott Morrison backed away from earlier suggestions that children could drive forklifts.
“[On] the distribution centre, production side of things … the challenge still remains to ensure that we keep working [through] the workforce pressures and the logistics and distribution and transport sector,” Morrison said following a national cabinet meeting.
“We agreed to proceed no further with the issue of 16-year-old forklift drivers. We had a good discussion about today and it is not something that we believe, collectively, that is something we should be pursuing at this time.”
It comes after reports on Thursday morning that the Government was considering easing licence rules for forklift drivers, after the PM flagged an “urgent need” for workers.
He said on Wednesday the Government had been working to reduce regulatory requirements in certain sectors.
“There are other changes that need to be made and they're at a state level, and I'm continuing to pursue those with the states.
“There are changes that we need to make around the age of forklift drivers, to get quite specific.”
In order to operate a forklift, people in Australia need to have a forklift licence, and operating the vehicles is described as “high risk work”.
Unions and politicians blasted the suggestion on Thursday morning, with Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) assistant secretary Liam O’Brien dubbing the suggestion as “madness”.
The Queensland branch of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) also said allowing under-age drivers to operate forklifts was a “brain fart”.
“There is a good reason that most states including Queensland set a minimum age of 18 – accompanied by practical and classroom training and testing – for a high-risk work licence,” assistant secretary Jade Ingham said.
“What next? A return to children leading pit ponies into coal mines and sweeping chimneys?”