Learning company pleads guilty, fined for child employment breaches

Wage Inspectorate Victoria

A digital learning company that creates popular educational apps for children has pleaded guilty in the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria to breaking child employment laws and been ordered to pay a $2000 fine, following a prosecution by Wage Inspectorate Victoria.

AKQA Pty Ltd (trading as Millipede) today pleaded guilty to 10 rolled up criminal charges for failing to obtain child employment permits and for failing to comply with the Mandatory Code of Practice for the employment of children in the entertainment industry.

The company contravened sections 9(1) and 32 of the Child Employment Act 2003 (Vic) between January and May 2021 when it employed 23 children on 24 occasions without first applying for the necessary permits, denying Wage Inspectorate child employment officers the chance to first assess if the work was safe and appropriate for children. It also subsequently failed to display any permits while the children were employed.

The children typically worked shifts of up to 45 minutes at a Balaclava sound recording studio. Once there, they were recorded reading voiceovers, and in some cases singing, for the company’s learning apps, including apps such as the Early Learning Languages Australia program (ELLA) for pre-school kids and the Our Special Island (OSI) program for Tongan children.

In sentencing, his Honour Magistrate Doherty said he accepted the offending was at the “lower end of the spectrum” but noted there was a need for general deterrence to discourage similar offending by other companies that employ children.

His Honour did not impose a conviction, noting that no children were harmed during the employment and that the company had no prior record of offending. He also noted the company had since taken steps to amend its protocols to require child employment permits.

Victoria’s child employment laws require employers of children under 15 to obtain a free permit from the Wage Inspectorate before any work takes place. The law also allows child employment officers to impose special conditions on the employment to protect a child’s safety.

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