from YAPRap May 2006
by Debra Jopson
Almost one in five workers under 26 is unhappy with pay and conditions, but most young people will not quit a job straightaway even when they feel poorly treated.
A survey provided exclusively to the Herald gives this insight into the insecurity of young workers, while an investigation by the newspaper has found many young Australians put up with poor pay, unreasonable sackings, bullying and shoddy contracts.
Most of the 400 young people surveyed were university, TAFE or school students, and employed mainly as casuals, but their work was so important to them that just one in five said they would quit and look for another job if their pay and conditions turned out to be really bad.
The rest would simply "put up with it" and wait until they had more skills or had finished studying, or they would hang on until they got a better job, the Sydney-based Youth Action & Policy Association found in the survey.
However, while low-skilled young workers may not be game to quit, the picture is starkly different for apprentices and trainees. As many of these young people quit their courses as complete them.
And another set of survey results given to the Herald confirms union officials' private fears that, despite the weaker bargaining power of young people, many of them believe the boss knows best. Of 940 students answering a questionnaire distributed by the Sydney University Students' Representative Council with Unions NSW, four in 10 said they would contact their employer if they had a problem. Only 6 per cent said they would get in touch with a union.
The YAPA survey found the low-skilled jobs most young people occupied left them feeling weak when it came to bargaining. Only two in five said they felt "confident" or "very confident" about negotiating their own pay or conditions. Most said the main factor strengthening their boss's hand was "the job requires only basic or common skills".
"When they need that money, they're not prepared to leave that job and battle with 10 other young people for another job," said YAPA's policy officer, John Ferguson. "Young people are quite powerless when it comes to negotiating pay and conditions."
He called on the Federal Government to ban individual contracts for workers aged under 20. However, Kate Walshe, a spokeswoman for the Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, said strong protection for young workers was provided by a requirement that a parent or guardian must authorise any workplace agreement signed by workers under 18.
Mr Ferguson said this was not enough. "A lot of parents wouldn't know enough. A lot would say: 'Little Johnnie, get a job.' The parents are just as vulnerable."
The prospect of more contracts made the workplace future look bleak for the young, he said.
"Young people [already] experience unacceptably high rates of bullying and harassment at work. They are often coerced into doing unpaid work trials and unpaid overtime."
Tough at the bottom: what the surveys say
Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training (ACIRRT) 2005. Surveyed: 5262 people in NSW aged 12 to 25, of whom 72% were in paid work.
- 78 per cent were casuals
- 60 per cent were in retail or restaurants/hospitality
- One in seven working as casuals were asked to work unpaid overtime
- 12 per cent had worked an unpaid work trial
- 23 per cent had been bullied at work
Children at work
NSW Commission for Children and Young People 2005: Surveyed: 11,000 children aged 12-16 years. 56 per cent had worked in previous 12 months.
- 50 per cent casuals
- 38 per cent have regular work
- 29 per cent earnt $4 or less per hour
- 22 per cent earnt $6-8 per hour
- 48 per cent had been verbally harassed
- 23 per cent experienced physical harassment
SA Unions 2004: Surveyed: 576 South Australians aged 15-35. 94 per cent had worked at some time.
- 22 per cent said they had been fired for unfair reasons
- 17 per cent had been fired or lost shifts after a birthday
- One in four were bullied at work
- One in four aged 15-19 sometimes felt pressured to work overtime without pay
- Two in five 20-24 year olds felt pressured to work overtime without pay
- One in four in both age groups felt pressured to work while sick
Fast food folly
Jobwatch Victoria. Surveyed: 670 fast food industry workers aged under 25.
- Ten per cent were not being paid the legal minimum
- More than 43 per cent did not know whether they were paid the legal minimum
- More than a quarter were not paid or only sometimes paid for overtime
- More than 35 per cent had experienced workplace violence or bullying. Of
- these 68 per cent did not report it in the workplace
- First published April 25, 2006 in the Sydney Morning Herald. Reproduced with permission. For copyright details contact SMH.
- Opinions expressed are the author's and not necessarily YAPA's.