Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has backed down from an idea to allow teenagers to drive forklifts.
At a national Cabinet meeting today, Morrison was tipped to put forward his idea to lower the age of licensing, as part of a suite of measures to deal with supply chain shortages, Guardian Australia reported.
In New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, the current age limit for the "high-risk work" licence required to drive a forklift is 18, but Morrison wanted it lowered to 16.
The Prime Minister alluded to the change this week, saying work was already being done to reduce the regulations required in the trucking sector.
"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," he said.
"There are changes that we need to make around the age of forklift drivers, to get quite specific."
Staff shortages have put a squeeze on supply chains leading to supermarkets being short on products including some fresh vegetables and meat.
Some of the other changes Morrison is pushing to fix the problem include recognising truck licences from New Zealand, and dropping a requirement for daily rapid antigen testing for workers, except for those in high-risk industries.
However he apparently backed away from the forklift idea, announcing this evening "We agreed to proceed no further with the issue of 16-year-old forklift drivers. We had a good discussion about it today and it is not something that we believe, collectively, that is something we should be pursuing at this time."
Earlier today the suggestion caused a fair amount of concern.
Australian Council of Trade Unions assistant secretary Liam O'Brien wrote on Twitter: "Forklifts are dangerous. They, along with other high risk mobile plant [sic] account for 1 in 6 workplace deaths. This is madness!"
"We shouldn't have to say this, but children should not be driving forklifts," the ACTU said.
Two days ago, a 44-year-old forklift driver in Melbourne was killed after being crushed by a shipping container while working.
SafeWork NSW executive director Tony Williams told Daily Mail Australia: "While not all incidents involve an injury or death, many of these incidents include collisions between forklifts or other vehicles, rollovers and objects falling off forklifts when loading or unloading."
Jade Ingham, assistant secretary of the Queensland branch of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, also rubbished the idea telling Guardian Australia that state leaders "must dismiss this idiocy out of hand".
"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, yet Mr Morrison seems determined to trash workplace safety to compensate for his own failure to prepare and plan.
"What next? A return to children leading pit ponies into coal mines and sweeping chimneys?"