– by Sophia Joyce
If you’re employed and under 21, you may be wondering why you’re being underpaid. Youth pay rates are designed to reduce costs for businesses employing young workers, so the demand for young labour increases the job opportunities for younger, low skilled workers.
But why should your age impact your job opportunities? Some young people have been employed in an industry such as retail or hospitality for years but still get paid below adult wage.
Currently youth pay rates are a part of Australian industry award laws, which means that employees aged between 18-21 years old are being paid a percentage less than someone over 21.
Typically the minimum wage for 20 year olds is 90% of the adult wage and the percentage decreases the younger you are, so 19 year olds are being paid 80% and 18 year olds are earning 70%.
Australian unions argue that in the eyes of the law you are considered an adult at 18, you can drink alcohol, legally drive and vote so why can’t you be paid full adult wage if you have the same responsibilities as someone over 21?
Employers say that youth rates are designed to enable them to compete with those who have been in the workplace longer and therefore are generally more experienced. Contrasted to this, employers might favour younger workers over more experienced workers for basic jobs because of the pay difference.
Socialist Alliance activist, Rachel Evans says youth wages are a part of the exploitation of young people in the retail and fast food industries in particular.
“Businesses have a vested interest in maintaining youth wages, wherever they manage to pay less in wages, their profit margins go up.”
The Australian government in 2011 said “if junior employees are to be competitive in the labour market, their minimum wages must reflect that, on average they have lower skills and experience, including general life experience than adults and are therefore of less value to employers.”
Retail worker Laura, 19 says she moved out of home to go to university, she has the same costs and responsibilities as someone older than her.
“My lower pay is nothing to do at all with how hard I work or my level of responsibility, it’s just because of my age.”
Most young workers pursue jobs, which can be done by anyone with the right amount of training, and there is no evidence that suggests that age plays a role in a worker’s ability to do their job.
Young workers are valuable to the workforce; even employers don’t seem to discriminate against young people with their workload, so why is it acceptable to discriminate when paying them what they’ve earned?
Photo Credits: Featured image by ABC; Money image by Think Stock; Cash on hand image by Yangwha
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