A McDonald's restaurant in Surrey has been fined £12,400 for exploiting child labour.
Ikhya Enterprises, the company that holds the franchise for the Camberley restaurant, admitted at Woking magistrates court to 20 offences of illegally employing schoolchildren.
Ten schoolchildren in total were involved in the case, including a girl who worked from 5pm to 2am on a school night and another 15-year old girl who worked a 16-hour shift.
Ian Hart, Surrey county council's child employment officer, visited the restaurant on the High Street, Camberley, last January after a parent complained that her son was working too many hours at the McDonald's and not spending enough time on his school work.
Hart found a number of children working at the restaurant without permits. Law requires that employers obtain a work permit for any school-age worker they employ. Following the visit, the restaurant quickly applied for the appropriate permits.
However, in late May Hart received another phone call complaining about the amount of time a child was working at the restaurant. This time his visit to the restaurant found 51 breaches of child employment regulations.
"We prosecuted them on the 20 most serious breaches," said Hart. "One child worked on a Thursday, a school night from 4pm to just before midnight, and then went back to school on Friday."
In a statement, McDonald's Restaurants said it was an accredited Investor in People and takes its responsibility as an employer seriously. "We only hire employees above school leaving age," it said.
"Our franchisee Kevin Izatt did hire staff below the minimum school leaving age and breached the law in terms of hours worked. We expect our franchisees and managers to maintain the highest standards in all restaurants. We are deeply disappointed that this
was not the case in this instance."
Ikhya Enterprises said it would no longer employ school-age children.
McDonald's has begun an internal review of how it monitors its franchise operations.
Surrey county council is now looking into other cases of child exploitation within the leisure industry but added that this was a "nation-wide problem" and not restricted to Surrey.
Surrey county council has spent £6,000 on producing leaflets to raise awareness to both the public and employers on child employment regulations.