Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey has called for a royal commission on wage theft in NSW.
Mark was reacting to recent revelations about employers, particularly franchises such as 7-Eleven, Dominos, Pizza Hut and Caltex, underpaying young and migrant workers. The ‘gig’ economy, which includes AirTasker, Deliveroo, Foodora and Uber, is also fragmenting workers’ rights.
Teachers can play an important role in educating young people about their rights and the history of the trade union movement, so they are less vulnerable to exploitation when they get their first job, Mark said.
“The starting point is encouraging young people to join the union so they are informed about their conditions and understand their contract of employment. Many young people have no idea what their rights are, other than getting an hourly rate,” he said.
“Historically people join unions when they have family members who are in a union, but we have a generation where no one in the family has ever been in a union, so we have to try and reach people though new means such as social media along with traditional organising strategies. There is a trend in society at large for people not to join collective organisations like clubs and churches, so we have to work hard to reach them.”
Mark said more could be done at school to make sure young people know their legal rights when they enter the workforce.
“Young people need to be taught about industrial rights and have some understanding of the legal system surrounding work. This is not taught enough in schools.”
Mark said the problem was increasingly exponentially, with the ‘gig’ model permeating all levels of society.
“AirTasker is contracting to the Good Guys to do deliveries. Employers are able to get out of their legal obligations around other entitlement apart from paying proper wages. Good Guys deliverers would have no job security, no enforceable minimum wage, no superannuation and no occupational health and safety insurance.”
Previously many students employed in retail were supported by awards and/or enterprise agreements so they at least had a base, but the gig economy was taking people completely out of this setting.
It is now common for young people to work on a ‘trial’ basis for weeks at a time without being paid.
“Students are basically facing the law of the jungle at work and this must impact on their studies.”
The Fair Work Commission was “doing bits and pieces” but did not have the resources to monitor the problems and could only react to complaints.
“It should be noted that unions are no longer allowed to look at wage books, unless it is for a union member. Previously unions could inspect wage books for everyone.
“Usually the union member is not the one being exploited. At 7-Eleven the union members were the only ones not being underpaid.”
Mark said a royal commission could look at the structures underpinning the basic premise of why we go to work.
“We go to work so we can get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, to enable us to feed out families and participate in society.
“We’re at a point where we need to make a decision about whether this is what we want our economy to do, or do we just want to keep pulling apart wages and conditions so people are further disconnected from their communities and become working poor.
“We need to look at what fundamental universal safeguards should be in place for working people in Australia.”