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What do you mean, 'Closing the Loopholes'?

(W)Age Discrimination

Young workers do the same jobs as everyone else, but our award system allows industries like fast food, hospitality, retail and many more, to pay young people as little as $8.55 an hour. 

Youth wages (also called junior rates) allow employers to pay young people a fraction of adult minimum wages. It's legal discrimination, predicated on assumptions about how young people live and their costs.  

 

A 15 year old can expect to be paid just 36.8% of an adult wage. At age 16, they will still earn just 47.3%. Even at 20, workers are legally paid less per hour than their 21 year old coworkers - even if they've been in the job longer. Under-18-year-olds are also denied superannuation unless they work over 30 hours per week. 

Discriminatory junior wages cost young workers in Australia $3.5 billion a year.  In a context where Australia's generational wealth inequality is already a problem, this is inexcusable. 

It's also a loophole exploited by big business, to the detriment of all workers. Young workers are pressured to work more shifts than they can reasonably manage while they are still in school because they are the cheapest workers. They are given fewer shifts as they age, until they are replaced entirely.  

Your age shouldn't be a factor in how you are paid. Allowances are already made for training periods through award classifications and trainee rates - and training periods apply to all new workers, at any age.

Confusion reigns

The Young Workers Centre, which runs outreach support to school-aged workers, points out that youth wages also contribute to young workers' confusion over what they should be paid. The different rates make it difficult for workers to compare pay with their coworkers, calculate casual loading and penalty rates, and check their classification. 

James Lea, acting Director of the Young Workers Centre, says that junior wages add an unnecessary layer of confusion - and that's rife for exploitation. 

"Most adult workers will get a pay rise once a year with the award review or the rollover of their agreement. For a young worker, their rate changes on their birthday as well as with the new financial year, and then they're likely to be moving between classifications as well. We know that a lot of these workers are likely to be experiencing wage theft, but it's hard enough for our industrial advocates to spot it - let alone someone working their first job." 

Penalising vulnerable youth 

The stereotype of a young worker is someone who takes on work after school for pocket money while they're living comfortably in their parents' home. The reality for some workers is less rosie. 

Nearly 13,000 unaccompanied children aged 10-17 sought help from homeless services in Australia in 2022. The number in need is greater.

Young people who face difficulties at home, who cannot rely on parental or guardian support or who move out of home at a very early age are all significantly impacted by junior wages. 

In these situations, young people often have no choice but to miss out on school to find work. Youth wages force them to work long hours to support themselves. Ending wage discrimination would support young workers in vulnerable situations to meet their immediate needs and continue schooling or training. 

Young workers are keen to make a change - and with the support of the union movement they can win. 

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