By Young Workers Hub
I am 17 and working my first job. It’s not exciting, there’s a lot of sweeping of floors and stacking of dishes. But I am so proud of myself. I had spent two months straight out of high school walking around Brisbane handing out resumes. There’s a character reference from my English teacher: ‘Hirer her! She always shows up on time! (And can do a great critical analysis of Hamlet)’. I know jobs aren’t readily available and I’ve managed to snag one just in time for university starting. By the end of my first shift I already know how I’m going to spend my first pay check:
- Campus coffee!
- My best friend’s birthday
But it only takes a week before they start to exhibit the same deceitful, deceptive and dishonest behaviour I’ll come to receive from them over the next year. The wage deposited into my bank account is $50 short. I do what every 17-year-old does when faced with a problem – complain to mum. The conversation went something like this:
“Muuuuum. I’m pretty sure work has made a mistake – they’ve shorted me this week.”
“Well, just divide your hourly rate by hours worked.”
“I have! I swear they’ve made a mistake.”
“Okay, just look at your pay slip.”
A payslip. That piece of paper, that as a casual worker, I am legally required to be given. Proof of my wage, hours worked, and what pay I’ve earnt.
I’m not worried about asking for a pay slip at my next shift. Why should I be? It’s the law, standard business practice. They probably just forgot to do paperwork for the new kid! It is my boss’ reaction when I ask, that proves my naivety. There is an awkward pause, a frown and finally a “sure”. Is it shock that I see in his face? Oh yep, it’s definitely there. I feel like saying, “Why yes actually, I do know I’m owed a payslip. You can’t fool me!” (Thanks mum.) When he hands me the slip, I’m in shock too – my hourly rate on the play slip is $2 less than what I had been told during the job offer. Goodbye campus coffee, goodbye textbook.
Next payday, there is no payslip again. This week, I am worried about asking for one. I am only two weeks into my job and I don’t want to be labelled as difficult. This time when I ask the pause is longer, the frown deeper.
My best friend tells me about how she stopped getting shifts at work. She turned 18 two weeks ago. Her cousin’s been looking for part-time work for three months. I don’t ask for my payslip next week.
By the end of my year working there I will have had my wage changed on me multiple times, without any notice or consultation. I’ll have had my co-workers tell me they get paid in cash. And I won’t have received another pay slip again. This is when you know – these acts weren’t innocent mistakes but calculated decisions. To steal, lie, and intimidate their employees just to save money on wages.
Unfortunately, I know I am not alone in this experience. Wage theft has become a rite of passage for young people in Queensland. It has been through the Young Workers Hub, a youth organisation fighting to criminalise wage theft, I have been able to share my story. Employers will continue to exploit young people; they’ve gotten away with it for far too long to stop. So, we will continue to educate young workers on their rights at work and empower them to recover their wages.
If you have experienced wage theft, please contact the Young Workers Hub.