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Let’s Stop Exploiting Young People!

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by Lisa Johnson

25 days ago

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As I have blogged recently, young people are over represented in the casual workforce; and therefore have the least security and power in the employer/employee relationship.  In terms of industry, hospitality has the highest % of casual staff, and the majority of these are young people.  Us oldies might bemoan the ‘entitled’ generation and how spoiled and lazy they are, but the fact is there is a lot of young people working long hours with no job security and clearly, no fair pay.

The Barry Café in Melbourne is accused of underpaying staff by at least $5 per hour and offsetting weekend penalty rates with a, wait for it, paid 20 minute break in their 8 hour shift.  To be fair, they did get free lunch and coffees.  I hope they ate a lot!

When the staff at Barry Café realised that they were being underpaid, they asked to meet with the boss.  He refused to have a group meeting; which is within his right.  And when the staff sent their concerns in writing, the response was:

“..you and the other staff agreed each and every one of you, the rate that you would be paid.”

Well here are the facts:

  • Just because you agree to be paid a rate, this does not remove the employers liability to pay the legal rate
  • Under the Hospitality Industry (General) Award 2010, “an employee (including a casual employee) who is required to work a shift of more than five hours and up to six hours, may elect to take an unpaid meal break of up to 30 minutes during the shift..” If the worker works more than 8 hours, they are entitled to the 30 minute unpaid break AND an additional 20 minute paid break, which may be taken as two ten minute paid breaks
  • For a shift of more than 6 hours, IF the employer does not release the employee for an unpaid meal break, the employee will be paid at time and a half per hour UNTIL such time they get their break or their shift ends.  So dear Barry Café owners, your paid 20 minute break is all good and lovely, but your staff were likely actually entitled to a 30 minute break.

Now let’s look at the award wages shall we.  Firstly let’s define the appropriate grade.  Here is how the award classifies their grades:

“Food and beverage attendant grade 1 means an employee who is engaged in any of the following:

  • picking up glasses;
  • emptying ashtrays;
  • general assistance to food and beverage attendants of a higher grade not including service to customers;
  • removing food plates;
  • setting and/or wiping down tables; and
  • cleaning and tidying of associated areas.

Food and beverage attendant grade 2 means an employee who has not achieved the appropriate level of training and who is engaged in any of the following:

  • supplying, dispensing or mixing of liquor including the sale of liquor from the bottle department;
  • assisting in the cellar or bottle department;
  • undertaking general waiting duties of both food and/or beverage including cleaning of tables;
  • receipt of monies;
  • attending a snack bar; and
  • engaged on delivery duties.”

There are other grades, but I am going to focus on these ones.  Firstly look at grade one – that doesn’t appear to cover anyone actually serving customers, so if you were responsible for making coffee, using the register and taking orders, then you would have to be defined as grade two.

The minimum casual hourly rate for an adult (someone 21 years or older) for a Grade One is: $23.51[1] plus super and for a Grade Two it’s $24.41ph + super.  This does not include the weekend penalty rates.

The responsibility to pay staff legally does not lie with the staff; the employer is responsible. Oh and you can’t offset penalty rates with free coffee and a bagel.  Just saying.

This story does not have a happy ending.  The staff who asked for their legal pay rate had their shifts cancelled.  As casuals they probably have no recourse for that, because as a casual, their employer can cancel their employment at any time.  So these young people have asked for their fair go, and been kicked in the teeth for it.

I know that so many small and medium sized businesses are simply ignorant of their legal requirements.  So many probably enter into an employer / employee relationship with the best of intentions, and risk finding themselves on the back foot when someone starts talking about obligations, but ignorance is simply not an accepted defence.  If you are running a business and hiring staff you NEED to know what your legal obligations are.  It’s that simple.

And so our young people, the ones who struggle to transition to permanent work, who have the highest rate of underemployment in Australia are again looking for another job.  Because they only wanted what was fair and legal.  They just wanted what they were owed.

Maybe it’s time to stop whining on about how precious and lazy young people are and agree that we just need to stop exploiting them.

 

[1] These rates are correct as at 23rd April 2018

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