In Australian society you are considered to be an adult when you turn 18. But this is not the case in many workplaces, reflecting a bygone era when turning 21 was the criteria for full adult wages. It's time all Australian workplaces reflected our current culture and so the ASU has recently made a submission in the case to vary the General Retail Industry Award 2010, one of the last bastions of junior rates for adults, to ensure all Australian adults, 18 years old and up, are paid adult wages.
Australians who are 18 can vote, drive, bet at the races, drink alcohol, can watch whatever they like at the cinema and are recognised to be adults under the laws of the land. Why is it then that an 18 and a 21 year old performing the same work at a department store are paid different wages? If you are a first year administrative assistant, why should you get paid differently depending on whether you are 19 or 20 years old?
ASU members are affected by this age based discrimination not just in the retail and administrative sectors, but also in local government, in airlines, in call centres and the legal services sector.
In contrast, around 50 modern awards recognise that an 18 year old worker is an adult. This inconsistency across the modern award system makes no sense.
Are 18 to 20 year olds being used as cheap labour in exchange for adult levels of work performance in these sectors? The ASU believes that the principle of equal remuneration for work of equal or comparable value cannot let this stand.
The case before the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission has received detailed written submissions from both the SDA and the ACTU arguing for recognition that 18 year olds are regarded as adults in our community, and should therefore receive full adult wages under the Retail Award. The ASU has strongly supported their submissions for the staged elimination of junior wages for workers aged 18 and above (you can read our submission below).
The ASU submission says, "Modern awards by definition can only be modern for 18 to 20 year old persons if they reflect all other current Australian laws, including the underpinning principles of the Fair Work Act, and social values."
In a boost to the campaign to have this age based discrimination remedied, the Federal Government has supported the unions' with a submission of their own. This backing puts the case on a better footing to succeed. With success in the Retail Award, the ASU will be able to apply to vary the remaining awards covering our members with junior rates for 18+ year olds.
If 2013 is not the right time to fix this problem of junior rates for 18 to 20 year old award-reliant workers, when will be?