What’s in store for the next generation?

Teenagers get a taste of life under WorkChoices

Mary-Louise White has glimpsed what lies ahead for young Australians entering the workforce – and fears for the future of her teenage sons.

‘Unless the new federal work laws are done away with, there will be no protection for young workers and no accountability for employers,’ says the Prince of Wales Hospital clinical nurse consultant.

Mary-Louise’s 19-year-old son Ben spent 18 months as a casual then part-time employee at a Dick Smith store after finishing high school.

‘We often didn’t get the penalty rates and rest breaks we were entitled to, and had to attend unpaid meetings,’ he said.

‘There were lots of sudden roster changes but if anyone questioned the lack of consultation they got the brush off.’

Ben joined the union to try to protect his rights – a move which resulted in ‘a very negative response’ from management.

Mary-Louise’s younger son Sam, 16, plays representative soccer and was keen to help his mum out with the associated expenses. He applied for several casual jobs over the Christmas break and was eventually given an unpaid ‘trial’ at a Video Ezy store on the strength of his resume and Mary-Louise’s approval for him to work late.

‘They were supposed to show me how to work the computer but instead I stacked shelves while the older staff chatted,’ Sam said.

‘They promised to let me know within a week if I had the job, but two weeks went by. I called the boss and she said they’d given the job to someone else because my confidence wasn’t good enough – but she wasn’t even there for my trial.’

Mary-Louise said, ‘It’s not just happening to my kids – I hear similar stories all the time. I think it’s unfair the way young people can be taken advantage of these days.

‘Kids are coming to accept that this is the way they are going to be treated at work – thank you, Mr Howard. What he has done is to legalise bullying and intimidation in the workplace.

‘I hear some people argue that no one will work on weekends if they don’t get paid extra for it. But that doesn’t take into account the terrible pressure on young people who are trying to get through uni and have to work part time to support themselves.’

As the NSWNA branch president at Prince of Wales, Mary-Louise believes nurses should not assume they are immune to the new federal laws.

‘As State public sector nurses, we are protected at the moment but that may change if the State government changes. And there is much less protection for nurses in the private sector.’

Daughter’s job turns sour after AWA attempt

Things started to go wrong at work for 20-year-old Belinda Flogel after she chose to stay on award conditions rather than sign an individual contract.

Even under WorkChoices legislation, workers have the ‘right’ to choose not to sign an AWA (Australian Workplace Agreement). Or so John Howard told us ad nauseam when he produced the new laws.

What Howard did not say – and what Belinda has now learned – was that the boss also has the right to impose a financial penalty and make life unpleasant for any worker who refuses to give up their existing work conditions.

Belinda’s mother, Manly Hospital nurse unit manager and NSWNA councillor Lyn Hopper, says her daughter’s working life has been turned upside down as a result of her decision to stick with the award. The same has happened to one other worker who refused to sign.

Belinda, a university student with a long-term casual job at a northern Sydney beaches club, had her hours cut in half and was no longer rostered on shifts attracting penalty rates.

And management has banned the common practice of staff swapping shifts – presumably to prevent the award workers from covering penalty shifts.

‘Staff were told they would get $1 an hour extra if they signed the AWA. But they lost a lot more than that by giving up penalty rates and other conditions,’ Lyn said.

‘They were handed the half-inch thick contract and advised to sign it and bring it back immediately.

‘Belinda asked me to interpret it and I realised as soon as I read it that they would be a lot worse off financially.’

Lyn says her daughter, an experienced waitress before she started at the club, has done a variety of jobs in her year there, including operating the cash register and running the coffee shop.

‘But now she and the other girl who didn’t sign the AWA are only given the menial jobs like picking up plates and polishing the cutlery.

‘They are made to feel uncomfortable. It is just disgusting what’s happening to young people at work these days.’