One of the country’s leading industrial relations experts is calling for schools to teach teenagers about their workplace rights before they enter the workforce, including how to deal with wage theft, discrimination and sexual harassment.
Miles Heffernan, Litigation Director of Industrial Relations Claims, said it is currently too easy for dodgy employers to take advantage of young workers starting out in their first jobs, because many don’t know their basic rights.
He suggests high school and TAFE students should be provided with compulsory workplace relations lessons that would cover issues including discrimination, sexual harassment, legal hours of work, pay rates and wage theft.
“Unfortunately, young workers are over-represented when it comes to being ripped off, and discriminated against, and even being subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace,” Mr Heffernan said.
“Knowledge is power, and the more we can equip our young people with knowledge, the less likely it is that they will be exploited – and if something bad or unlawful happens, they’ll know exactly what they can do about it.”
Wage theft rife in many industries
Wage theft is rife in many industries that often employ young people, including hospitality, fast food, retail and health and beauty.
During last year’s government wage theft inquiry, IR Claims provided a detailed submission to the committee.
The submission told a number of stories from victims of wage theft, including one of an apprentice plumber who was paid half of his legal wage for three months, and when he complained to his bosses about it, they sacked him.
IR Claims also told the inquiry about another teenage client who was an apprentice hairdresser who wasn’t paid her proper hourly wage, not given lunch breaks and not paid any superannuation.
IR Claims has also represented a number of young men who were victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.
One received a $30,000 payout after relentless bullying and harassment on the farm where he worked.
A young apprentice painter received $12,500 compensation after his workmates wrote offensive messages on windows and sent them to others on their mobile phones.
IR Claims is currently representing a 15 year-old worker who had sexual images left on his mobile phone by his boss.
“Young people are often targeted with sexual harassment, and sadly, many don’t know what to do about it,” Mr Heffernan said.
“If they learn about these issues and their workplace rights while they are still at school, chances are they will know that sort of conduct is unlawful, and there are places you can go to get help to stop it.”
IR Claims runs education class
Recently lawyers and industrial advocates from IR Claims held an information session at Bray Park High School to teach some school leavers about their workplace rights.
“It was just a one-off session, but hopefully the knowledge some of the students gained will help them in their future work life,” Mr Heffernan said.
Inquiry recommends education
Mr Heffernan’s IR Claims firm made 19 recommendations to the recent Queensland wage theft inquiry, including introducing compulsory education classes for secondary school and TAFE students.
The Committee’s final recommendation to the government included:
The committee recommends the Queensland Government re-establish the tripartite Industrial Relations Education Committee under the auspices of the Office of the Industrial Relations to conduct visits to schools, TAFE and VET providers, and universities. The visits would be conducted on an optin basis and provide information focusing on the rights and responsibilities of both workers and employers.
“We were happy to see the recommendations made by the committee, which did some excellent work investigating the problem of wage theft in Queensland,” Mr Heffernan said.
“The government has accepted all recommendations in principle, so let’s hope we will soon see our young people better educated and better prepared to enter the workforce by the time they start their first job.”
If you have experienced discrimination or sexual harassment, or if you have not been paid your proper wages and entitlements, we can help.
For support and advice, please call our specialist team at Industrial Relations Claims on
1300 045 466