Ball Kid Boiling Point: Child Labour Shock Hits Melbourne.

It is 2014.

And yet, in contravention of the guiding principles of the ILO Convention on Child Labour signed 40 years ago, hundreds of youth under the age of 15 are being employed by a major and highly profitable Australian enterprise.

The ILO convention states:

“The minimum age specified in pursuance of paragraph 1 of this Article shall not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling and, in any case, shall not be less than 15 years.”

Worse, they are without pay despite doing tough physical work in conditions of searing heat.

Unpaid work in searing heat, anybody?
Unpaid work in searing heat, anybody?

Tennis Australia, which earned $1,600,000 in profit in 2012-13, accepts ballkids agd 12-15.

These embattled and un-unionised “volunteers” must complete a multi-month training schedule to secure their unpaid roles:

“Australian Open Ballkids will also be required to participate in tournaments outside of the Australian Open as part of a compulsory training requirement. These events are scheduled to take place between November and December.”

They share the court with line judges (paid around $200 a day) with chair umpires (paid around $400 a day), with overtime.

Or perhaps they will be on court with Novak Djokovic. In 2013 he secured the winners cheque of $2.43 million with 18 hours 16 minutes of court time. Call that $132,800 an hour or $2,213 a minute.

Sure, the kids seem to like it. “I’ve enjoyed it every single year so far,” 15-year old Mitchell Riley told the Herald Sun recently. “It’s great getting up so close to the players.”

But is it really fair? Prior to 2009, the Australian Open handed out $42 a match to ballkids. Someone has made the decision to cut that to nothing.

Surprisingly it is America where there has been most rancour over tennis officials pay. Half the world’s top umpires boycotted the 2011 US Open in protest at the conditions And in 2012 the US Tennis Association was sued over pay and conditions.

Meanwhile the home of the 35-hour week, France has an all-unpaid ballboy force, working up to 11 hours a day, as recorded in this Economist article


Would it be possible to organise a ball-kid strike? I’d love to see the players collecting their own wayward shots and fetching their own towels. Maybe 2015…

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

4 thoughts on “Ball Kid Boiling Point: Child Labour Shock Hits Melbourne.”

  1. Possibly yes, but who’s going to organise them. One of the reasons the Oz open cuts off the age at 15 is Unions can’t recruit members younger than 16 and even then there’s no union with rules that cover ball boys and girls (unless there’s an argument that AMEAA can make to say they’re in the entertainment industry). So unless there’s a budding young Trotskyite willing to infiltrate the Oz Open and organise a bunch of 12-15 year olds into taking industrial action (good luck!), the status quo will most likely prevail.

    Personally I think it’s morally reprehensible. I used to umpire domestic basketball when I was 14 and got $7 a game. Surely the Open can pony up the scratch to get these kids some pocket money. They are highly skilled and should be paid by the hour with minimum pay on the outer courts and increasing per hour as you move toward centre court. Plus hazard pay if the heat on court level gets above 36 degrees.


    1. totally agree on the hazard pay. worst thing is those skills are kind of specialised so the tournaments are a monopsony buyer for kids with mad rolls


  2. The non payment is a disgrace.
    Plus,.,these kids are continually exposed, many hundreds of times a day to all the sweat and gunk from the players towels.
    The kids aint given gloves for protection but every medico that is called to an injured player wouldn’t come near a player without gloves.

    Liked by 1 person

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