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Junior Wages must end

Helena worked a second job to make ends meet while she did her apprenticeship. It still wasn’t enough.

Officially, this week the national minimum wage was raised to $24.10 – but thousands of young workers are lawfully being paid as little as $15.06 an hour due to “junior” pay rates. Today volunteers with the Young Workers Centre in Victoria officially began work on a campaign to scrap junior rates.

Today (3 July 2024) the Young Workers Centre has released a report showing that junior pay rates are unfairly penalising young workers. Census data shows that young people from low-income localities and migrant families are more likely to begin working at a young age and are therefore more likely to be penalized by earning lower junior rates.

The Young Workers Centre’s analysis of census data has found that young people in the most disadvantaged suburbs and localities were nearly 20% more likely to be in paid employment than young people in middle-class suburbs. Close to 60% of full-time workers aged 20-24 lived in areas of below-average socio-economic status. 

Outreach organisers at the Young Workers Centre say that junior wages also contribute to “wage opacity” – making it difficult for workers to directly compare pay and conditions.

Earning a fraction of the official minimum wage, many young workers feel they have no choice but to work longer hours.

At 17 years old, Helena was working nights at McDonalds to save money while working during the day as an apprentice chef. “My mental health went down the drain. Because money was tight and moneys only made when you work. The hours didn’t correspond to the pay that I was getting - it was a very sad pay check at the end of the week”.

Burnt out and struggling, Helena quit her apprenticeship. “I couldn't continue it for three years, even though I would have been qualified by the time I turned 19. It wasn't viable.”

Apprentices are especially penalised by junior rates. If an apprentice begins their apprenticeship prior to their 21st birthday, then they receive a lower rate than an apprentice who began their apprenticeship after they turned 21. Their status as a junior apprentice remains even if they turn 21 through the course of their apprenticeship.

It’s an unfair and confusing system that costs young workers in Australia around $3bn a year - mostly pocketed by multinational companies.   

The Young Workers Centre campaign seeks to:

  • Abolish junior wages
  • Abolish junior apprentice wages and penalties for non-completion of year 12
  • Increase apprentice wages across the board
  • Amend legislation to entitle workers under 18 to superannuation in line with older workers

 

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