Australia's young & super-exploited workers

By Peter Boyle

Jake, a high school student, has been working a couple of night shifts a week for a well-known fast-food chain since last year. His normal pay rate is $6.85 but he’s paid a 10% loading on top of that for working after 6pm. But young workers taken on since the new IR laws have come in are not getting the loading for night work. But that's only the part of  the story of the young people who make up one-fifth of the Australian labour force, suffer some of the poorest working conditions, health and safety standards, severe workplace bullying and harassment and lowest pay.

In April this year, Walkley Award-winning investigative journalist Debra Jopson revealed the terrible human toll of the super-exploitation of young workers in Australia in serious of shocking articles in the Sydney Morning Herald:

“More than 310,000 Australians aged under 25 have suffered work-related injuries or diseases over the past 10 years, almost equal to the number of Australians killed and wounded during the first and second world wars.

“Another 500 young workers were killed in the 10 years - an alarming toll compiled by the Herald using the national workers' compensation database.”

Her investigation revealed the “vulnerability of young Australians in the job jungle - often working for no pay, signing contracts with outrageous conditions, or being used as cheap labour under the guise of traineeships”.

She found that one in six of the 45,689 workers aged 15 to 24 who were injured in NSW over the six years to 2004 were left permanently disabled, according to WorkCover figures that were conceded by the authority to significantly underestimate the real problem.

For some chilling examples of the young workers killed in the workplace read Jopson’s “Tragedy and heartbreak - the stories behind the grim statistics of lost employees” (SMH April 24, 2006)  click here

"It is one of the great untold stories in our country," ACTU assistant secretary Richard Marles told Jopson. "It is not Australia's dirty little secret. It's Australia's dirty giant secret."

The Howard Liberal-National government’s “Work Choices” legislation has given bosses three major ways to intensify this super-exploitation.

1. By pushing individual contracts (Australian Workplace Agreements, AWAs) on workers with the least bargaining power.

2. By reducing the protection of already inadequate awards (especially for young workers) to just five minimum conditions.

3. By making it easier to sack workers.

Last year, the Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training (ACIRRT) surveyed 5262 people in NSW aged 12 to 25, of whom 72% were in paid work. It found that:

* 78% were casuals
* 60% were in retail or restaurants/hospitality
* One in seven working as casuals were asked to work unpaid overtime
* 12% had worked an unpaid work trial
* 23% had been bullied at work

The NSW Commission for Children and Young People also surveyed 11,000 children aged 12-16 years, 56% of whom had worked in previous 12 months. It found that:

* 50% were casuals
* only 38% have regular work
* 29% earned $4 or less per hour
* 22% earned $6-8 per hour
* 48% had been verbally harassed
* 23% experienced physical harassment

See here.

In Victoria, Job Watch surveyed 670 fast food industry workers aged under 25. Its key findings were:

* 60% of these workers who were under 15 years of age when they commenced their job at the fast food outlet did not have a child employment permit.

* 10% were not being paid the legal minimum and over 43% did not know whether they were receiving the legal minimum rate of pay.

* 46% said they suffered an injury or illness at the workplace.

* 24% of those who suffered an injury or illness at the workplace did not report the illness or injury to someone in the workplace.

* Over 35% experienced some form of workplace violence or bullying - verbal harassment (29.7%); psychological harassment (17.5%); sexual harassment and assault (12.7%).

* Perpetrators of workplace violence or bullying were people in positions of authority in the workplace (45.8%), work colleagues (30.3%) and customers (20.4%).

* 68% did not report workplace violence or bullying.

* 23% were not paid for attending staff meetings and/or training outside work hours although legally entitled to be paid.

* 28% did not know whether their employer was paying superannuation on their behalf.

* 17% did not receive a payslip or received a payslip only sometimes.

* Over a quarter of respondents were not paid, or only sometimes paid overtime.

* 53% stated they had worked longer than 8 hours in a shift with 32% of those respondents having worked shifts of 11 hours or more.

* Just under a quarter of respondents did not receive a 30 minute meal break after working for 5 hours continuously.

* 26% experienced a large cut in their regular hours of work and of those respondents an 30% were not provided with any reason for the reduction and 13.2% said it was age related.

* 14.5% were removed from their roster by the boss as a form of disciplinary action (8.1%); were “forgotten” to be added to roster (8.1%); were not given a reason (8.1%) and dismissed from the job (7%).

* 19% experienced some form of discrimination at the workplace. The main forms of discrimination experienced were: age (7.8%); physical features (7.5%); sex (6.7%); and personal association (4.6%).

* A significant proportion of young fast food industry had not received occupational health and safety training or instruction in relation to: identifying potential hazards or risks in the workplace (16.1%); safe
work practices (17.8%); whether their workplace had an occupational health and safety representative, and who that person was (30.6%).

* Nearly one third of respondents were not supervised or checked regularly to make sure health and safety instructions were being followed and that they were not exposed to any risks.

* Only 13.1% were members of a union.



June 1 youth and student strike: 
Young Workers Conference June 17



May 2006

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