Did you know, young workers make up about 16% of the Australian workforce but make up 25% of requests for help and 44% of legal action taken toward employers? Yep, pretty sad stats.
A recent exposé of young workers rights violations in the Woollongong region has surfaced and exposed an epidemic of young people being underpaid across the area. Ashleigh is a student at the University of Woollongong who reported several jobs where she was paid $12 p/hour, offered a job for $10 p/hour, was required to train people on unpaid trials that lasted full day shifts – strange for an overstaffed café — and eventually became fed up.
She took to social media about her experience and the response was alarming. She was not alone.
Since taking up the issue with the FairWork Ombudsman, Wollongong businesses are undergoing audits and investigations of underpayment of its workers. It goes to show, bringing up workplace violations can be an important catalyst for wide scale improvements of workplace conditions. And by speaking up as a young person, you’re taking action on behalf of young people as a collective.
So, if your workplace cuts a few corners with the way they treat workers (or you suspect they might be), this is the guide for you.
Here are 5 steps to follow if you need to raise an issue and seek help solving it…
1. Find out what you’re entitled to
If you suspect something smells a bit funky. Investigate.
The Fair Work Ombudsman website offers tools to calculate your wage, as well as the penalty rates, overtime and allowances you are owed. Sometimes employers misclassify workers under the wrong award (you can find yours here) which means you may be getting less than you should. And that straight up stinks.
2. Bring it up
In small businesses you’ll probably address issues directly with your employer, in other cases some larger businesses have HR (Human Resources) departments that deal with worker’s issues. Set up a meeting, show evidence of what has occurred, and what entitlements you should be receiving based on your award or your contract. Minimum wages apply to everyone, if you’re unsure what you are owed check out the wage calculator tool mention in Step 1. Your employer will probably want to sort out any issues, but if they’re not convinced of any wrongdoing, then you’re ready for Step 3.
3. Call in the FWO (FairWork Ombudsman)
Or email them. You know, whichever you prefer.
They’ll give you advice on how to proceed, often they will call your employer to try and resolve it. If this doesn’t change anything then they will pay the employer a visit to suss out the issue and mediate any disputes to set the record straight. Usually at this point, issues regarding underpayment, breaks and allowances are sorted. But if the situation hasn’t improved, unfortunately, then we move to Step 4.
4. Litigation (a.k.a making it a legal issue)
If none of these approaches have resolved your workplace issue then the last step is going to court. As compelling as court dramas are, litigation looks less like…
and more like…
This can be a stressful and time-consuming process, so ideally you’d hope to negotiate a solution in the earlier stages.
The Fair Work Ombudsman will help you through the negotiation and litigation process of recovering your short-changed wages or other rights violations. It can be a hard fight, and an emotionally draining process. Call in the support of friends, family and co-workers to help you when it gets a bit much. When this is over, you know what to do…
Just as the Woollongong overhaul took the voice of one person to start the discussion, consider how your voice can make a difference to your co-workers and other young people entering the workforce who are vulnerable to exploitation.
Every time you stand up for something you’re passionate about, it makes a difference! Celebrate that.
Young people are some of the most vulnerable members of the workforce. Not having the right knowledge or experience means we’re more likely to have our rights exploited in the workplace. We decided to help change that. Educating Young Workers is a series we created with the good folks over at the Fair Work Ombudsman to share facts, help others understand their rights, and resolve issues.