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Hiring Young Workers in Australia

Reading time: 6 mins

Young workers and their employers need to have a thorough understanding of their legal rights and obligations. Young workers can bring fresh perspectives and enthusiasm to the workplace.

However, they may not be familiar with the rules and regulations that govern their job. This lack of understanding can create problems for both the employee and the employer. This lack of knowledge can lead to issues for both the employee and the employer.

Key takeaways on employing junior workers

Junior workers typically range in age from 13 to 21 years old.

There are workplace laws that apply only to young workers. Some laws also apply differently to junior workers. All employers must comply with these laws when hiring young employees and during their employment.

Important for employers to be aware of:

  • the worker’s job classification
  • minimum pay rate
  • the hours they will work
  • what their job duties will be
  • whether a relevant Award or registered agreement applies

By prioritising the well-being and development of young employees, organisations can harness the full potential of their workforce.

Hiring young workers

Minimum working age

Each State and Territory has different rules for young workers. These rules include the minimum age to start working, the type of work they can do, and their working hours. Generally, children can do work in specific circumstances, outside school hours, with parental consent.

Junior Pay

Most awards and registered agreements have minimum wages for juniors. Junior rates are typically a percentage of the adult pay rate for the employee’s classification, determined by their age.

If an Award or enterprise agreement does not include junior pay rates, the employer should pay the young worker the adult wage rate.

If no Award or enterprise agreement covers the business or the employee, the National Minimum Wage will apply. The National Minimum Wage has rates for junior employees on an aged-based percentage scale.

Employers can pay junior workers more than the minimum wage but cannot pay them below the minimum wage.

Serving alcohol?

In most cases, employers must pay juniors who sell or serve alcohol at the adult rate, regardless of their age. This applies even if it is part of their general waiting duties.

Unpaid Work

Under section 323 of the Fair Work Act, an employer must pay an employee concerning the performance of work, in full.

All employees must receive the correct pay rate for all hours worked. This includes time training, in team meetings, opening and closing the business, and working unreasonable trial shifts.

A trial shift will only be reasonable when the trial:

  1. lasts as long as necessary to demonstrate the person’s skills
  2. is to observe the person’s skills or suitability for the role
  3. the person is directly supervised the entire time

Work experience and student placements

If the Fair Work Act 2009 deems the placement a ‘vocational placement,’ a student may participate without pay. This applies when the placement is part of a formal education or training course. A placement host may elect to pay at their discretion but are under no obligation to do so.

A junior worker will need to be paid if the arrangement isn’t a vocational placement, and it involves productive work (rather than just observation and learning).

Courtney Lambert Senior Lawyer Courtney has worked in legal teams in the engineering and construction industries.

What should employers do?

Employers need to keep records of:

  • junior employee’s dates of birth and reminders to adjust their pay when they have a birthday
  • relevant Awards for each employee and their requirements
  • the details and nature of any unpaid work

Employers need to be aware of the following when weighing up the benefits of hiring young staff:

  • junior employees may have restrictions on the work they can do and the hours they work
  • that you may require a parent or guardian to agree to certain arrangements under Award or workplace agreements

Employers should also consider the following regarding the health and safety and work environment for younger employees:

  • Make sure young workers understand their rights and duties at work, which might be new to them. Clarify things like pay, conditions, workplace policies, company values, and who to ask if they have questions.
  • Acknowledge and support young workers’ commitments outside work, such as school, exams, or training.
  • Offer training that matches levels of experience, skills, and knowledge. Consider if you can appoint a mentor or buddy to assist the young employee.
  • Ensure that you clearly explain the job expectations. Address any performance issues promptly. This will help young people understand the requirements for succeeding at work.

What should young employees do if they feel something isn’t right?

Gather supporting information

You might have to give payslips, records of hours worked, and notes from events, conversations, or meetings. You also need to provide your relevant Award, as well as rosters or timesheets.

The Fair Work Ombudsman provides a lot of helpful information for employers and employees.

Talk to your manager or HR department. Your manager or human resources may not know about a problem or mistake until you tell them. You may be able to have a support person present when you talk to them.

If you’ve tried to fix your dispute without success or cooperation, Prosper Law may help you.

About the Author

Farrah Motley
Director of Prosper Law. Farrah founded Prosper online law firm in 2021. She wanted to create a better way of doing legal work and a better experience for customers of legal services.

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