SDA Fights for Student Pay by Suzi Williamson

Australia’s biggest trade union is aiming to abolish junior rates of pay for 18 to 20-year-olds, and is asking university students to support the campaign. The Shops, Distributive, and Allied Employees Association’s (SDA) national secretary Joe de Bruyn said thousands of students are missing out on money they deserve. “We’re asking

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students to email the Minister (for Workplace Relations) Bill Shorten asking that he support the campaign as well and that the Government join us,” Mr de Bruyn said.

Junior rates are common in the teenager-filled retail and fast-food industries and are usually set in line with age. Workers aged 18 are often paid only 70 per cent of what an adult is paid for doing the same job. 20-year-olds are usually paid around 90 per cent of the adult rate. The SDA argues that if 18-year-olds are allowed to vote, drive, marry, and serve the country, it is logical that they are treated as adults in the workforce.

A claim has been submitted to the Fair Work Commission to remove this “discriminatory loophole” from the Retail Award. The SDA argue it is illogical that experience is not taken into account, so someone aged 21 just starting a job could be paid more than the 18-year-old training them. “This is about achieving what is essentially equal pay for equal work for young people in this country,” Mr de Bruyn said.

New Zealand has been paying over 18s adult rates for over a decade, and research commissioned by the New Zealand Treasury and Department of Labor shows it has had little effect on their economy. “They found that there had been no impact on employment whatsoever,” Mr de Bruyn said. “This is regarded as simply part of their system.” The SDA’s ‘100% Pay at 18’ campaign has nearly 10,000 supporters signed up to the website. The site includes a standard email script that can be personalised and sent direct to MP Bill Shorten.

A response from Mr Shorten’s office said that all emails relating to the Employment and Workplace Relations portfolio would be redirected to the Ministerial office. Mr de Bruyn said while this is can be effective; it is not the only chance students have to get their voice heard by federal politicians. “What is interesting is that people who are 18 to 20 today will be voting for the first time in the federal election this year, so they can also make it clear to the Government what they want in terms of their rights at the work place to get the adult rate.”

The SDA has also hit out at companies who claim that paying students adult rates would cost too much, citing quotes from other organisations who say that paying 20-year-olds the adult rate would cost them only around one per cent more of their wages bill. “This is not going to send companies broke, and this is why it has been successful in New Zealand,” Mr de Bruyn said. “It’s been absorbed by the employers, there’s been no impact on employment, and we can’t see why the same thing can’t be done in Australia in 2013.”

Suzi Williamson


Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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