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Young Workers Centre YWC
Campaign Wins
Young workers, union members and activists campaigned hard for years to stop dodgy bosses stealing wages - talking to the public on doorknocks, phonebanks and at street stalls about their stories of having their wages stolen. On June 22, 2020, the Victorian Parliament passed the Wage Theft Bill, which will come into force on 1 July 2021. Bosses found guilty of the crime of wage theft can now face hefty fines and jail time.  Penalties for this offence include: Fines of up to $991,320 for companies; Fines of up to $198,264 for individuals; and Up to 10 years jail for individuals. In the past three years nearly 1000 young workers have come to the Young Workers Centre saying they’ve had their wages stolen. Their bosses thought they could get away with stealing wages, superannuation and other entitlements because they thought they wouldn’t face significant fines or penalties. 
Former Honey Birdette workers Tori and Chanelle stood up against the company, creating a Megaphone petition, taking action on the streets of Melbourne, telling their stories and the stories of other workers. Despite the company's vision of "female positivity," Tori, Chanelle and other workers told us of sexual harassment from customers, with little to no response from management when reported, bullying from management as well as hours of unpaid overtime and the expectation that they'd work in this environment alone. They visited WorkSafe in 2016, handing over piles of documents related to these health and safety breaches occurring in store. WorkSafe investigated, conducting 14 visits to Honey Birdette stores in Victoria and issuing 14 Improvement Notices. Issues found included:🐝No safe manual handling training🐝No training or strategies for handling difficult or threatening customers🐝Blind spots in stores, where workers could be cornered by customers🐝No amenities, such as clean drinking water, provided for workers🐝Failure to provide a safe workplace🐝Playing music so loudly that staff in store could not be head if they needed to call for help. Some stores now provide bottled water for workers, and policies relating to safe manual handling procedures have been introduced. However – despite repeated requests from workers and from Worksafe, we can’t find any evidence to show that Honey Birdette has installed panic buttons or duress alarms in their stores. For a business where hundreds of former workers have spoken out about the abuse they suffered at the hands of customers, and where Worksafe found that over 60% of shifts are completed by a solo worker, this isn’t good enough. We must keep fighting for health and safety at work.
Tina came to Australia as part of a working holiday. During her 10 months at Shanghai Street Noodle Wizard, Tina worked late nights, weekends, and public holidays. She trusted her boss was being honest with her when she was dealing with an unfamiliar workplace in a language she was still learning. Instead, her boss took advantage of her. He lied about paying tax and super. He paid her a flat rate of between $12 and $14 per hour - and when she tried to take 10 days leave to visit her family at home in Taiwan, he sacked her. Tina went through Fair Work's mediation process - but Shanghai Street Noodle Wizard was only willing to pay back $3000, not even a quarter of what they owed Tina! This was unfair, and Tina and the Centre refused to accept this. That's when Tina went to the Federal Court - and the judge issued an order for Shanghai Street Noodle Wizard to pay her the full $20,000 she was owed within 21 days. An incredible result by standing firm!  
A Happy Ending: A group of young workers at Dymocks Books Chadstone have won back their jobs and JobKeeper payments after dobbing in their boss at (A now inactive website that was set up for workers to report abuses of the JobKeeper system)They reached out to us when their boss told them they were not eligible for JobKeeper and no longer had a job. These workers stood together to negotiate with the boss, with the backing of the union movement and Young Workers Centre, and won.
A group of young workers at Young Engineers Melbourne South were opted into the JobKeeper scheme by building power as a collective and reaching out to us at the Young Workers Centre.Initially their boss wanted them to sign a dodgy contract about receiving partial JobKeeper at a later date, but by standing together they were opted fairly into the scheme.
Aaron* was a second year landscaping apprentice, who had a number of scars and scabs on his face and hands due to medical issues. Aaron's supervisor accused him of drug use and verbally abused him in front of the rest of the work crew, culminating in a summary dismissal for "alleged drug use." As a result of his treatment, Aaron suffered serious mental health issues, and was unable to work for an extended period. He came to the Young Workers Centre, who were able to negotiate compensation reflecting Aaron's mental health injury. (*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.)
Jordan worked as a kitchen-hand and waiter for a year at a cafe in Melbourne's inner-east. During that time, he was paid as little as $16 an hour and received no penalty rates. With legal assistance from the Young Workers Centre, in 2018 he won back more than $8,000 from his former employer.
Bakers Delight workers at a regional Victorian store reached out to the Young Workers Centre and stood together to get the JobKeeper allowance they were entitled to.
Gavin* began as a first year apprentice doing air conditioning repairs. He was not paid Award rates or appropriate overtime rates throughout his apprenticeship. He also didn't consistently receive his annual leave loading or superannuation entitlements. Under Gavin's contract, he was also entitled to be reimbursed by his employer for his TAFE fees. He was not reimbursed for fees of approximately $3,000. Gavin came to the Young Workers Centre, who were able to negotiate a resolution of the full amount of wage theft and superannuation of over $8,000 for him. (*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.)
Electrical apprentice reclaims $16k in stolen wages with assistance from the Young Workers Centre Australian apprenticeships are rife with exploitation, and young workers are particularly vulnerable to wage theft and unsafe conditions.  Recently, the Young Workers Centre was called in to assist a young electrical apprentice, Gabe*, who was owed thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and superannuation. Gabe had also experienced frequent racial abuse from his employer.  With the support of the Young Workers Centre, Gabe successfully settled the dispute with his former employer, winning over $16,000 in stolen wages and superannuation.  With the money hitting Gabe's account this week, he is in a much better position to continue his apprenticeship & career, in a workplace where he can feel safe and supported.    In a similar incident last week, a builder's labourer working near Bendigo was able to reclaim $9,000 in unpaid wages after his employer dodged his calls and blocked his number. Congratulations to both workers and to the young legal guns in the Young Workers Centre, building up young workers' knowledge and taking down bad bosses. 
Workers organising at Kisdoo: In Oct 2021 a former worker called the YWC about issues they experienced and continued to be an issue at Kisdoo, an art studio/school in Melbourne's Eastern suburbs. Key issues: unpaid overtime, last minute rostering, no penalty rates and a culture of bullying. So workers got organised! The 10 current workers, with the support of the former worker, joined the IEU and took action. Workers wrote a letter of demand to management, with advice provided by YWC legal team and IEU industrial officers and YWC attended a meeting, as a support person role, with management to discuss their demands. The workers won:1. Timesheets to track overtime2. An additional paid hour of preparation time each weekback paid the 1st July 2021 3. Award pay increase for all staff4. $10,000 in back pay!! This was the unpaid weekend penalty rates for all eligible staff. 5. Clearer and fairer contracts when they renewed for 2022. Just as importantly, these workers experienced unionism. 10 young workers joined the union and 1 of them participated in Union Summer and continues to be a YWC activist. Many of them have now left Kisdoo but they've been back in touch to ask which union they should now join in their new roles, they're mainly now working in hospitality and galleries.  
17 year old worker and florist Gabrielle* had her bullying & wage theft claim win her back over $20,000 *name changed We managed to help win back over $20,000 for young worker Gabrielle, after she suffered significant wage theft and awful workplace conditions where bullying and harassment was rife and even included assault when a pair of secateurs were thrown at her head. Workplace issues: Long hours of work – early starts and late nights  Regular weekend work without penalty rates (weddings in particular)  Paid flat rate (i.e. no penalties)  Poor record keeping; handwritten and incomplete pay records  Bullying and harassment: belittling, yelling Assault  YWC Legal support: The legal team supported Gabrielle as a long-running matter as the employer was uncooperative and the lack of records made it difficult for us to quantify Gabrielle's claim. Through reconstructing hours of work from client’s diaries and social media accounts (where she took and posted photos of work done), we were able to get evidence for her claim and resolve her matter for a payment of around $20,000!
19 year old Josh* a landscaping apprentice, received $3000 in compensation after workplace harassment and discrimination *name changed Josh was a second year landscaping apprentice who had a number of scars and scabs on his face and hands due to medical issues. His supervising employer falsly accused him of drug use and verbally abused him in front of the rest of the work crew. This verbal abuse culminated in a summary dismissal for alleged drug use.   Josh suffered serious mental health issues as a result of his treatment. He was unable to work for an extended period and because the employer refused to pay Josh’s TAFE fees, debt collectors started pursuing Aaron directly which left him understandably distressed.  YWC Legal team action:  Unfortunately, as Josh had not been employed for the minimum employment period in order to be eligible for an unfair dismissal application to FWC (6 months or 12 months if employer is a small business, i.e. fewer than 15 employees), instead, the team made an application to Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) in relation to discrimination on the grounds of physical appearance. From here, we were able to negotiate compensation reflecting Aaron’s mental health injury, which came to around $3,000. This helped Josh both financially and mentally, to have closure and a positive outcome from such a difficult experience.
26 year old retail assistant, Cassie*, won back over $10,000 in stolen wages *name has been changed Cassie had worked at a 'social enterprise' for about 12 months, where some proceeds of the sales in the shop funded social enterprise activity but it was not a charity. For the first half of her employment, she was not paid and was classed as a volunteer despite performing work also performed by paid employees.  After 6 months, she finally began to be paid as a permanent part-time employee, but had no regular hours and no guaranteed minimum hours meaning she was should have actually been classified as a casual employee. Cassie never had breaks as she was often the only employee in the store and was never paid superannuation. She ended up leaving her employment after she asked the employer to pay her minimum wages. YWC Legal Action: We wrote a detailed letter to the employer setting out all of the worker’s employment rights, including minimum wages, overtime and penalty rates, right to breaks and employers obligations in relation to superannuation contributions. The employer agreed to reimburse the wage theft of around $10,000 as well as make superannuation contributions and also sought advice and applied the General Retail Industry Award to all its current employees, improving the workplace for workers going forwards!
21 year old Kevin*, an Apprentice Baker, won back wage theft of around $14,000! *name has been changed Kevin worked for the same employer throughout his apprenticeship of around four years. He experienced significant wage theft and was underpaid at every rate: significant overtime; Night shifts, early morning shifts; Weekends and public holidays. YWC Legal Action: It was very close to the 6 year limitation period when the matter came to us but we were able to do complex wage theft calculations of the extensive overtime and Award definition of ordinary hours of work (not exceeding 152 hours in 28 consecutive days) and through the application of multiple different shift-work rates. We were able to figure this out by reconstructing his hours week by week from Kevin’s rosters and ended up recovering around $14,000 – the full amount owed! 
Jessica*, a 26 year old waitress won back $4000 in compensation for dismissal and wage theft *name has been changed Jessica was in Australia on a working holiday visa. She applied for a job with an advertised hourly pay rate that was less than the minimum award rate but she was not aware of this at first being unfamiliar with the workplace conditions in Australia. The business then paid her even less than the already low advertised rate.  After one month of employment, she raised rate of pay and asked to be paid correctly. She also attempted to take sick leave as she was sick at work but the business refused to allow her to go home. Afterwards, she attended a GP and was signed off for a further 3 days due to being really sick and unfit to work and business then fired her for taking this sick leave.   YWC Legal Action: We made an application for breach of general protections provisions on Jessica's behalf and settled at conciliation for a payment of approximately $4,000 as compensation for the termination and reimbursement of wage theft! 
Apprentice Taskforce Win! In the wake of tireless advocacy and activism, Daniel Andrews has now established an Apprentice Taskforce! The Taskfoce will improve regulation, simplify complaint reporting, and establish bans on employers who have mistreated apprentices. This win was made possible by Young Workers Centre activists who organised community meetings and online actions; shared their stories with media; participated in a roundtable and delivered a Megaphone petition, containing over 9,500 signatures to The Hon Gayle Tierney, Minister for Training and Skills. For several years, Young Workers Centre (YWC) has called attention to the need for urgent systemic change, having documented an increase in apprentice exploitation across all sectors and a shocking 77% of our legal clients being apprentices. Commonly reported issues include bullying, unsafe working conditions, poor training, insufficient supervision and wage theft.  This shows that when young workers come together, we can achieve big change. We won't stop until we win a safe and fair system for all apprenticeships.