Aussie PM's Idea Involving Kids, Forklifts Doesn't Go Over Well

Scott Morrison has nixed the proposal to alleviate labor shortage after backlash
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 23, 2022 10:15 AM CST
'Brain Fart' Idea to Have Kids Drive Forklifts Scrapped
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/mirror-images)

(Newser) – In the US, we've got teens driving big rigs. On the other side of the world, the Australian government briefly mulled having more teens do their part by operating forklifts—a suggestion that's since been walked back after backlash from local leaders. Per ABC Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was prepping to put forth a proposal to lower the minimum age for a forklift driver's license (currently 18) to 16 to help ease a labor shortage spurred by COVID. On Wednesday, Morrison noted he was "continuing to pursue" ways to do just that with the states.

A day later, Morrison met with state and territory leaders at a national Cabinet meeting, and when he emerged, he had an update: "We agreed to proceed no further with the issue of 16-year-old forklift drivers." He added, per the Guardian: "We had a good discussion about that today, and it is not something we believe, collectively ... we should be pursuing at this time." The leaders who'd been presented with this plan seemed taken aback by it. "Forklifts can be extremely dangerous machines to operate and we have no plans to lower the age at which a high-risk work license can be obtained," said a rep for Ingrid Stitt, Victoria state's minister for workplace safety.

A spokesperson for the Queensland branch of a construction union similarly dismissed the idea. "What next? A return to children leading pit ponies into coal mines and sweeping chimneys?" He added of Morrison's Liberal party: "This desperate brain fart should make clear their utter contempt for workers' health and safety." It's not the first nation to put kids to work this way: In Germany, teens as young as 16 can get a forklift and tractor license. And in Australia, children using industrial machinery, especially on farms, "is not unheard of or even uncommon," per ABC.

"There are some 16-year-olds you would feel comfortable with and others you wouldn't," a professor of public health at James Cook University tells the outlet, while still acknowledging that driving a forklift is done in a "complex environment." The New York Times notes that Aussies have been getting a lot of mileage out of the truncated proposal, having a little fun with it online as they tried to imagine younger teens driving around in forklifts. "Hey wake up man you gotta go drive the forklift," one commenter tweeted at a picture of a sleeping baby. (Read more Australia stories.)

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