Exploiting young workers, an issue for all workers
There are many issues facing young people in or entering the workplace that impact not just on young people but on the broader working class as well. The high rate of youth unemployment (13.4% nationally), a largely casualised workforce, lack of knowledge about minimum working conditions and pay, as well as being largely non-unionised results in an easily exploitable workforce. Most young people enter the workforce with no knowledge of legal working conditions, which makes it difficult if not impossible for young workers to speak up when issues in the workplace arise, or to even realise that things are not operating as they should. A recent example was an article on gaming website Kotaku about instances of exploitation at EB Games, a popular retail outlet for console and PC games and merchandise. Many young people interested in gaming culture would consider a position at EB Games to be the dream job, but the article, “Inside EB Games: When the Dream Job Becomes a Nightmare”, paints the picture of working at EB Games as anything but a dream. Former EB Games employees reported verbal abuse and significant amounts of unpaid overtime expected from workers, including midnight launches. The collective peer pressure is if you want to be in the “in crowd”, do what’s expected of you as you can easily be replaced. Every EB Games store receives resumes on a daily basis from young people wanting to work there. There is a huge push on “key performance indicators”, in an extremely sales-driven environment where numbers are everything. In response, EB Games claimed it follows all Fairwork rules and regulations and that all casuals are paid for the time they work, including midnight launches. However, a manager at EB Games revealed that it is a very well thought-out system that forces managers to take advantage of casual workers. Stores are given a budget that makes it impossible to pay workers to cover shifts in a week, which is why there is so much unpaid work. One of the employees who contributed to the article has since been banned from all EB Games stores. Another recent example is the widespread half-pay scam and penalty rates rorts in 7-Eleven stores across Australia. Many of the workers who were underpaid are international students who were not only pressured to work hours long over their visa limits, but were then threatened by the bosses that if they complained about being underpaid, they would be reported for breaching their visas. 7-Eleven has since accused its employees of colluding with the franchisees. Unfortunately this kind of practice is commonplace across the retail sector, where a lot of workers are casual, lack job security and have little to no knowledge of their rights at work. Hospitality is similar. Geelong Trades Hall Council secretary Tim Gooden said that recently there has been a trend of young hospitality workers being dismissed just before their 12-month mark, who then approach Geelong Trades Hall for assistance. Trades Hall cannot do anything for them because workers need to have been employed in a workplace for 12 months to make an unfair dismissal claim. The other growing trend in exploiting youth labour is the increase in unpaid internships or “work experience” that university graduates take on so they have something good to put on their resumés. These graduates work the same as the paid staff, in fact many of them work the equivalent of full time or longer to make a good impression in the hope that putting in the extra effort will guarantee them a job. It is not necessarily the case. The same is true in retail and hospitality, with unpaid “trial shifts” as part of the interview process. Placements that are part of TAFE diplomas and university degrees are unpaid and can last for up to six or seven weeks of full-time work, often forcing students to sacrifice paid work to fulfil the course requirement. This increasing trend of the exploitation of young workers is yet another way the bosses are undermining hard fought for wages and conditions and contributing to unemployment rates. Why would businesses employ paid workers when they can get young graduates or placement students to do the same job for free? It is also worth noting how age and gender intersect in terms of exploitation in the workforce. Statistics released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that the gender pay gap widens dramatically for women aged between 24 and 45. Presumably that is the age that many women decide to have children and care for families. Similarly the percentage of women working less than full time hours — either part-time or casually — increases after age 20, again because the expectation is that women will start families and take the larger share of care for children as well as other domestic duties. Unions have a responsibility to do more to defend the rights of young people in the workforce, as the exploitation of young workers undermines the wages and conditions of all workers and ultimately will lead to their greater exploitation. Unions need to adhere to their catch cry of “Touch One Touch All”, and begin to educate young workers about their rights in the workplace.