The Fair Work Ombudsman wants to educate employees and businesses on the myths that are contributing to a worrying number of young workers being underpaid around Australia.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says too many people mistakenly believe that a range of workplace practices relating to young workers are legal when they are in fact not.
“It’s time to address the myths that have achieved widespread levels of acceptance and are resulting in employers short-changing young workers around the country,” she said.
Ten common young-worker myths the Fair Work Ombudsman found are:
Myth: Paying low, flat rates of pay for all hours worked is OK if the worker agrees.
Fact: Minimum lawful pay rates are mandatory. In many jobs, penalty rates must be paid for evening, weekend, public holiday and overtime work.
Myth: Lengthy unpaid work trials are OK.
Fact: Unpaid trials are only OK only for as long as they are needed to demonstrate the skills required for the job. Depending on the nature of the work, this could range from an hour to one shift.
Myth: Employees don’t need to be paid for time spent opening and closing a store, or for time spent attending meetings or training outside their paid work hours.
Fact: If a meeting or training is compulsory, then it is work. Employees must be paid for all hours they dedicate to work, including time spent opening or closing a store.
Myth: Employers can deduct from an employee’s wages to cover losses arising from cash-register discrepancies, breakages and customers who don’t pay.
Fact: Unauthorised deductions from an employee’s pay are unlawful. They can be made only in very limited circumstances.
Myth: Employees are obliged to buy store produce such as clothing or food.
Fact: Employers cannot require staff to purchase store produce. This includes any items for which the worker may receive a staff discount.
Myth: Unpaid internships are OK for all inexperienced young workers looking to get a foot in the door.
Fact: Internships can only be lawfully unpaid when they are a requirement of a course at an authorised educational or training institution.
Myth: Employers can pay young workers as ‘trainees’ or ‘apprentices’ without lodging any formal paperwork.
Fact: Employers must negotiate and lodge a registered training contract for an employee to be able lawfully to pay trainee or apprentice rates. An employer cannot pay an employee trainee rates just because they are young or new to the job.
Myth: Paying employees with goods such as food or drink is OK.
Fact: Payment-in-kind is unlawful. Employees must be paid wages for all work they do.
Myth: If a worker has an Australian Business Number (ABN) they are an independent contractor and minimum pay rates don’t apply.
Fact: Having an ABN does not automatically make a worker an independent contractor. Fair Work inspectors apply tests of fact and law to determine whether a worker’s correct classification is as an independent contractor or as an employee. Whether an employer has labelled a worker a ‘contractor’ and required them to obtain an ABN may not be relevant.
Myth: Pay slips aren’t mandatory – employers only need to give employees pay slips if they ask for them.
Fact: Employers must give all employees a pay slip within one working day of pay-day. Employers can give employees paper or electronic pay slips, such as a link sent via email.