A fast food franchise in the border town of Wodonga has been fined over multiple child labour breaches but will escape conviction after pleading guilty.
Melbourne Magistrates Court ordered Wodonga Food Pty Ltd, which operated the Wodonga Red Rooster outlet near the Victoria-NSW border, to pay a fine of $5,500 (US$3,579) and $4,000 (US$2,603) in court costs in relation to 29 charges involving 10 children under 15, across 169 occasions in 2022.
The offences had been rolled up from an initial 355 charges.
An investigation by Victoria’s child employment watchdog uncovered instances of employing a child under 15 for shifts for longer than three hours or past 9pm, failing to provide supervision from an adult with a valid Working With Children clearance and employing a child without a permit.
Magistrate Timothy Gattuso found the breaches had occurred due to ignorance of Victorian regulations rather than recklessness, noting the business operator had six compliant Red Rooster franchises across the border in NSW.
“A failure to comply due to such ignorance must be viewed more leniently than a deliberate non-compliance,” Mr. Gattuso told the court.
He also noted the potential effect of incomplete information in Red Rooster’s franchise pack across state jurisdictions.
“The obligation lies with all employers to ensure that they are aware of and familiar with the relevant law in each state in which they operate,” Mr. Gattuso said.
“Having said that, a duty also ... sits with the franchisor in larger corporations which operate nationwide, or in many cases internationally, to ensure that they’re not misleading their franchisees and leading them into a contravention of the law.”
Victoria’s Wage Inspectorate took 11 businesses to court last year over alleged child employment breaches.
“So the community rightly expects it to have a strong focus on creating a safe workplace for kids, which is what child employment laws help ensure.”
Mr. Hortle noted the magistrate referred to information on child employment laws provided by the franchisor, which had incorrect information.
“We’re looking to franchisors, particularly large, well-resourced corporations, to show leadership in this space and ensure their franchisees comply with child employment laws,” he said.