Australian children could be put to work driving forklifts under a plan Prime Minister Scott Morrison is reportedly considering.
The PM will ask the states to consider lowering the legal age required to drive a forklift, The Guardian reported on Thursday morning, as COVID-19 staff shortages dent supply chains.
Morrison first alluded to the change during his press conference on Wednesday, flagging an “urgent need” for workers in certain sectors.
“We have been working to reduce the regulatory requirements in the trucking sector and others,” Morrison said.
“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.”
Workers in most states of Australia need to be at least 18 years of age to obtain a forklift licence, and also need to have been assessed as competent and completed the required training before operating the heavy machinery.
Safe Work Australia classes operating a forklift as “high risk work”.
However, in other countries like the UK, people can begin operating forklifts from 16.
It comes amid warnings the Omicron outbreak could force 10 per cent of the Australian labour force to isolate at any given time, with supermarket shelves bare due to supply chain issues.
However, unions and politicians have already blasted the suggestion.
“Forklifts are dangerous. They, along with other high risk mobile plant [sic] account for 1 in 6 workplace deaths. This is madness!” Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) assistant secretary Liam O’Brien said on Twitter.
Forklifts are dangerous. They, along with other high risk mobile plant account for 1 in 6 workplace deaths. This is madness! pic.twitter.com/KHM3MHdKmd
— Liam O'Brien (@lbobrien) January 19, 2022
“One in six workplace deaths occur around forklifts and similar machinery. We shouldn’t have to say this, but children should not be driving forklifts,” the ACTU added.
Labor MP for Ballarat Catherine King also rubbished the idea.
“According to Greg Hunt, giving out free RATs is a “dangerous” idea. I’ll tell you what’s dangerous, kids driving forklifts,” King said.
Earlier this week, Social Services Minister Anne Ruston suggested using unemployed workers to ease supply chain challenges.
"Anybody who is currently on unemployment benefits who is able to work, we would be really keen for them to undertake some really active investigations about how they could help out with these workforce shortages," she said.