British teenager Jay El-Leboudy, 15, wanted to earn some extra cash around the holidays. His mother, Zoe Buckwell, thought this was a fine idea. "He wanted to start earning money of his own. Myself and my partner thought it would really help to build up his confidence too," she told the Canterbury Times.
To facilitate the process, Buckwell reached out to friends who own a Londis convenience store, and asked if they would consider hiring her son. They agreed to try El-Leboudy out for one week. El-Leboudy worked for that week. Then he worked for another, and then another. Ten weeks in, El-Leboudy was still working. "Jay worked nearly every day during half term, They requested he buy a smart black shirt which he did. He always made the effort to be there on time and worked way past 9 p.m. which was the time we agreed, Buckwell told the Times.
It seemed reasonable to assume that El-Leboudy had gotten the job, and could expect payment for his labor. So, after ten weeks of working for Londis, El-Leboudy started wondering about his pay check. El-Leboudy and his family questioned the owners, and learned that he had never been added to the payroll. One owner, who spoke to the Times on condition of anonymity, argued that it would have been illegal to pay the teen. "I said to [Buckwell] that [El-Leboudy is] only 15. The law says he's not allowed to work and because we sell alcohol, he's not allowed in lots of areas, but he is allowed to follow people around."
This is a highly suspect take on child labor laws, which allow children aged 13 and up to work part time (but don't require employers to pay minimum wage, and bar them from employing child workers after 7 p.m.). The owner told the Times:
I have had in the past someone come in and take things in their bag. So in his case I had to take trust with the fact I know the parents and his grandfather. I treat all my staff like family, I said he's allowed to eat and drink whatever he likes. If he turned up after school and he was hungry, I'd say he could have a coffee. I gave her the fact that because he's not got a national insurance number he would not be allowed any sort of payment or anything from me. I need to tell the tax people. When he's 16 he would be allowed payment if there was a vacancy and if things work out.
To recap: the owner offered payment in the form of occasional coffee, and was taking a risk because the non-employee who worked at the store might turn out to be an underage, booze-seeking thief.
Upset, Buckwell asked for advice on the Facebook Canterbury Resident Group page last week. Both she and El-Leboudy described what happened:
Canterbury residents are rallying behind El-Leboudy. One person posted a flyer to the page that shows an image of the store, and accuses it of "a history of employing young people aged around 15 and then refusing to pay for their hard work claiming that it was 'voluntary work!' Please do not allow your child to work there."
Buckwell wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday that she has no ill will toward the story owners. "It was never mine or Jay’s intention to be spiteful or indicative towards the shop owners. It would have been nice if they had done the right thing…" She added that she "was really surprised by the number of people who had the same experience of working there and not getting paid."
The owner later stood by her initial decision, telling the Times, "I gave her the fact that because he's not got a national insurance number he would not be allowed any sort of payment or anything from me. When he's 16 he would be allowed payment if there was a vacancy and if things work out… The Facebook criticism against me has been unjustified. This action is biting back to me. Demanding paid work when I did a favour to him? Work experience, nobody gets paid."
El-Leboudy has been offered a new job, and gotten quite a bit of money from a Go Fund Me page set up by Buckwell (she said in a Facebook comment that most of it will go to charity). Alls well that ends well, we guess.
Londis did not immediately respond to our request for comment.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.