The cost of everything is going up, and our wages aren't keeping pace. What can young workers do to survive?
You probably don't need a run-down of just how expensive everything is getting. But if you do:
In the year to June across the country, the cost of food overall rose 7.5% including a 15.2% rise in dairy products and an 11.6% increase in bread and cereal products. Rents were up 6.7%, insurance was up 14.2% and utility prices rose between 12% and 14%.
The cost of living crisis is real and it's biting young people hardest. Most of us, without family wealth or property ownership to fall back on, and especially those of us who haven't finished our job training or tertiary education, are finding it increasingly difficult to survive, let alone live the kinds of lives we hope for.
If we have jobs, we find ourselves picking up more and more shifts in our desperate quest for money, leaving us with less and less time for study and socialising, which is having a huge impact on our mental health.
But working harder and longer isn't the only way to pay your bills. And the answer is certainly not to "cut back on luxuries" as endless editorials advise (what luxuries do they think we're enjoying at this point?)
The system is broken, and we need to fix it with collective solutions.
At the Young Workers Centre, we believe in the power of collective action to win change, which is why we recommend every young worker should join their union. Here's why that matters.
1. Win higher wages
By joining in union with your co-workers you can start to change the power dynamics at work.
Our culture has really glorified the role of bosses and business owners as "job creators", but we need to remember that it is us - the workers - who create the profit, the wealth, or other output in whatever work we do.
Oh, you've got a multi-million dollar juice company? Not without anyone to blend the juice and serve the customers.
Running a massive global amusement park business? Not if you're going to disrespect the divers, front-of-house and hospo staff.
We don't have to just accept the minimum wage as a fair price for our labour.
(And we certainly shouldn't accept wage theft in the form of below-legal wages!)
By organising the workers at our workplace - no matter what kind of business we're in - we can negotiate an above-award agreement. That is, we can agree directly with our employers what price to put on our time and energies as workers.
We can only do that as united workers - workers in a union. If one of us goes to the boss and demands more pay, they'll just replace us with someone who expects less. But if we all go out together, suddenly the business is facing loss of revenue from lost work time - we have a bargaining chip!
Negotiating a workplace agreement might sound scary, but thankfully our union (the collective of all the workers in our industry) has legal experts and seasoned negotiators on hand to support us through every step of the process and make sure we get a good outcome.
Plus, our union even works to improve the minimum (award) wages and conditions in our industry - so we're making a collective difference just by joining!
2. Win back dignity at work
Our new agreement (enterprise agreement) isn't limited to wages. It contains everything we expect as workers in our workplace (enterprise).
We can negotiate overtime rates to compensate us for working long shifts at unsociable hours. We can require the business to bring more of us on to part-time or full-time contracts so that we can get paid leave.
We can (and should!) elect health and safety representatives - who under law, have the power to call a stop-work until a Worksafe inspector comes out to investigate an OHS issue.
All in all, being a union workplace means winning respect for our labour in the workplace, and an even playing field.
3. Demand changes to our unfair economic systems
But the change doesn't stop with just our workplace or the changes we win to our whole industry.
As unionists we also have the power to work together to address the problems that affect all Australian workers - and even beyond. Some of the things we've won recently include:
- Higher minimum wages 2023
- Wage theft laws (started here - by activists at the Young Workers Centre!)
- Jail time for bosses whose actions (or lack of actions) kill workers on the job
- Rules to stop a type of outsourcing ("labour hire") that is just about finding loopholes to agreed wages and conditions
- Sick leave for casual workers
- Paid pandemic leave and wage subsidies during covid
- Changes to prevent dodgy apprenticeships
4. Win societal change
(But wait there's more!)
Because workers aren't just units of labour - we're people with rich lives and stuff we care about - our unions also work on broader social issues. Most recently:
- We campaigned hard in solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for a Voice to Parliament
- We were the Victorian hub for the Marriage Equality Campaign
- We removed a crap Federal Government
- We are campaigning to stop lawyers silencing victims of workplace sexual harassment and gendered violence
- We campaign for climate justice - and good jobs in a low carbon economy (and recently persuaded the Victorian Government to bring back publicly-owned energy!)
- We campaign to save our cultural and environmental heritage through "Green Bans" - like we just saved the Curtin Hotel
- We campaign in solidarity with workers overseas
And right now, we're campaigning together for changes to win fairer housing.
(Better than giving up coffee)
If you're someone who has been thinking "there's got to be something better than this" - you're one of us. Come along to one of our events to meet other great people, join together in union, and start changing the world.