Stories from the Behind the Counter

I was 16 years old, unsure about the technicalities of pay or breaks, often getting paid under the legal amount and sometimes not getting paid at all.

The pressure to get a job and find out “how the real world works” is a sentence reiterated by friends, family and even politicians. With the recent budget expressing a strong interest in getting less high school leavers “working for the dole” there is no better time than ever to look into this issue.

We underestimate the struggles of a young adult finding work and fighting for their rights. The rights of young employees are often threatened by sketchy information and the fear of losing a job over a simple acquisition. Not all bosses will take advantage of you, but some may. With that in mind, I believe it is important to share multiple stories of young people’s experiences so we are able to see the full picture.

Here are a collection of stories that tell of the issues and perks of people working under the age of 18:

“I worked for a restaurant that paid me half the minimum wage. They didn’t give me shifts until an hour before and didn’t give me a contract. I began to sense something fishy 3 months in when they started to not pay me.”
– Sarah Smith

“My first job was amazing. I had a few rough patches with the customers but I learnt a lot of valuable skills. I also surprisingly made genuine friends which I never thought a would working at a greasy food joint.”
– Dean Yeros

“I like thinking of the way I saw my job like that line from that the song the message. I don’t know if you have heard it but there is a line like “Cause it’s all about money, ain’t a damn thing funny, gotta have a job in this land of milk and honey” I was so obsessed with the idea of independence and work that my discomfort with the boss, my overtime was all faded as soon as I was able to put on the radio up loud and begin to wash dishes.”
– Maddy Ross

“I worked for a café for a year and they began experiencing money troubles as they were paying me cash on hand they began to start promising that the money would be given a week later. They were nice people with a family and a toddler but they foreclosed the café and won’t answer any of the employee’s phone calls.”
– Eliza Fernando

“I worked in a Jeweller for a week, but the boss was super sexist. He would constantly degrade all the female colleagues, he would leave work whenever he felt like it, and it was just a negative workplace to work in. He never gave me instructions and would complain of the dumb girl unable to finish her tasks, so I just left and never came back.”
– Michelle Liu

Everyone has different experiences when it comes to work. But so many young workers are unaware of their fundamental rights as an employee.

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My job experience was one that turned into a nightmare.

After 10 weeks without pay I wrote to the investors of the organisation discussing the situation and demanding the money owed to me. The push ended with me getting most of the money I was owed however I also received messages from my former co-workers calling this act a “lack of respect” and “a little annoying”.

The mere action of exercising my rights had me removed from the store’s online records and led to me getting indirectly fired by a manager my age. Although I wanted to at first, I never went back. I enjoyed my job. Everyone was nice, I was good at it and I had flexible times. I was amazed at how I had been treated and how co-workers my age reacted to it. They told me “this is the real world, stop living in yours”. This hurt because it wasn’t just random strangers but people I really admired, people I would get TV drama recommendations from. It saddened me that they were unable to see my side.

What I want you to get out of this is not that all jobs are awful or all bosses are exploitative, but that they can be. Jobs are a part of life and do so much for the Australian economy so it is essential for young adults to know their rights as an employee. We need to address these widespread issues facing young workers and ensure they have access to the information they need. Fair Work Australia has a useful guide on how to prepare for the workforce.

Here are some of the things they suggest you find out from your employer when starting a new job:

  • your pay rate
  • whether you’re full time, part time or casual (this affects your hours of work, pay rate and leave entitlements)
  • your hours of work
  • what your job duties will be

Though these things might seem pretty basic, it’s important that you’re aware of them to ensure that you are being treated fairly at work.

For more information about starting work visit the Fair Work website.

maria cropped Maria Dunne

Maria is a 17 year old from Melbourne who enjoys writing on a range of issues such as politics and popular culture.

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