Have you ever wondered why your pay goes up every year on your birthday until your early twenties? Two words: Junior rates.
A “junior” is defined as a worker under the age of between 18 and 21, depending on your Award or Agreement. “Junior rates”, if they exist in your Award or Agreement, are a percentage of the adult minimum wage which goes up based on your age.
While a pay rise seems like a nice birthday surprise (happy birthday, here’s an extra couple of cents an hour!), the reality is that junior rates are seriously bad for young workers. But before we can dismantle junior rates, we need to talk about why young people work.
Why do young people work?
Young people work for a lot of different reasons, to support themselves while studying or to get some extra cash to go on a holiday. Many other young people work to support their extended families, to pay bills or to take care of their own young families.
So, why are junior rates unfair to young workers?
Junior rates exacerbate income inequality:
For young people who live in low income households or who need to balance work with other responsibilities (such as caring for family members), being paid junior rates instead of adult rates can have a massive impact on their ability to put food on the table or access healthcare and education. This can put young people at an increased risk of poverty and homelessness.
Junior rates are based on the view that all young people have access to family support:
Many older Australian politicians believe that the only reason young people work is to learn about money responsibility or to save up to buy Kylie Jenner Lip Kits, however, they fail to see beyond their middle-class privileged positions and step into the shoes of those who have it hard. The reality is, many young people don’t have a choice: they have to work to support themselves.
Junior rates assume that young people’s work is worth less:
In 2013, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) sought to challenge junior rates but faced opposition from the Australian Retailers Association. The ARAs executive director Russell Zimmerman claimed it would increase youth unemployment. He also said that “if I have to put new people on, I will choose mature people with the expertise and know-how”.
Junior rates are said to reflect young workers’ ‘inexperience’ and ‘lack of skills’, which clearly undervalues young people’s creativity, energy and enthusiasm. Training wages recognise workers’ lower skill and experience level while junior rates could easily be considered to be age discrimination.