Young workers deserve better than low pay and casualisation

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Young people in Australia find it increasingly difficult to get secure, full-time work. Youth unemployment sits at 11.5% – which is more than double the rate for the general population. Underemployment, where people don’t get enough hours, is also high at 17%.

Both the youth unemployment and underemployment rates are well above their pre-Global Financial Crisis rates of 10% and 11% respectively. 44% of 20 to 24-year-olds are not in full-time work.

Bosses will use every opportunity to reduce the wages they pay people, cutting hours to the bare minimum, taking advantage of discriminatory youth wages, and often breaking the law to pay people below their legal entitlement. These profiteers have also successfully pushed for cuts to penalty rates.

Hungry Jacks was recently caught out attempting to use the PaTH program, where unemployed workers can be taken on as “interns”, to replace Christmas casuals last year. This program pays jobseekers as little as $4 an hour on top of their welfare payment, in place of actual paid work.

Young people often find themselves in sectors like retail and hospitality, where employers take advantage of the low levels of union membership to rort workers. The dominant union in the retail sector is the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA), a right-wing union with a long history of making dodgy deals with bosses.

There is an urgent need for young workers to become organised and to help rebuild a fighting union movement. There is no reason any job needs to be associated with low pay and insecure work.

A fighting approach could also push the government to invest in jobs. We need to fight for a program to create jobs with public investment into socially necessary areas, like renewable energy, public transport, and a public housing building program. Youth wages should be abolished, and young workers paid at the same rate for the same work.

A fighting campaign by the unions could restore penalty rates, raise wages and demand reliable hours and better conditions for young workers.

By Kai Perry