Recently, I was pondering affairs in between stacking tomato paste on shelves at my part time employment, a large supermarket chain. This form of manual labour is recommended for those who like to explore the depths of thought- letting one’s mind wander is a necessary refuge from the senseless boredom that can, and will, result.
During this task I was told by my colleague that his birthday was up soon, and he gladly informed me of the wage increase he would receive. His cheerful reaction to a few extra dollars of pay from the full rate prompted me to question the age scale upon which this was based. I saw this “extra” pay as something which he, and the rest of the company’s considerable population of younger staff, had somewhat of a moral claim to.
Why should we be subjected to less pay, when the task expected of us from employers is exactly the same as our mature work mates stacking canned food three rows over?
Almost half of all teenagers (44 percent) aged 15-19 are employed in Australia, with both sexes showing similar rates of employment. A large percentage of those work in a retail based environment, such as fast food or supermarkets, which widely employ pro rata junior rates.
A whopping 82 percent of workers flipping burgers at McDonalds in Australia, for example, are less than 21 years of age, with those who are unfortunate enough to be 15 currently receiving half of a full adult hourly rate.
This is not limited to fast food chains - most supermarkets and similar retail outlets utilise a similar arrangement, negotiated with by major unions such as the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees' Association (SDA). Now, one can realise how this beneficial this is to the profits (and shareholders) of a company if the majority of people that it comprises of aren’t even being paid a full wage – a rather convenient set of circumstances.
It’s hard to argue otherwise that accepted age-based discrimination is contradictory to the uproar spurred by lack of equal pay for women, although many try. Proponents of this scheme seem to employ harmful generalisation without evidence; suggesting that changing the current system will somehow translate to large scale youth unemployment, or that youth are naturally less productive and therefore deserving of a lower wage.
Surely, the individual hard worker should not be subject to a form of collective punishment based on perceived incompetency of their peers. Would the employer, now, make the same arguments defending a lower wage for women? I think not, and if they were to try, the argument would be regarded as obnoxious and outdated.
The simple reality is, arguments in favour of economic benefits do nothing to address the human rights issue that should be foremost. If not in an employer’s mind, then certainly government and regulatory authorities’. The United Nations statute on Human Rights agrees - set out in The Convention on The Rights of the Child, to which Australia is a signatory.
It states that laws be implemented to prevent young people from economic exploitation. A number of organisations focused on the protection of children, including the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre – express similar views for the abolition of junior rates.
We should be legislating for the protection of young people in this country, and not be institutionalising exploitative means for employers to increase profit on the back of the young workforce. Pay scales based on competency and experience, encouraging healthy competition and efficiency should instead be implemented.
Sure it will require some restructure, but let us be the ones to set the example for other countries that the wellbeing and protection of young people, like my generation and the ones to follow, should come first, and not be lost on the way in pursuit of the dollar.
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