Hi everyone!

As part of my photography course, I have to track my development on a blog. The posts from September 2011 until January 2012 are part of a module called Project Management, for which I was required to work in a group of eight students to create an exhibition. The blog followed every step we took in order to create a successful gallery. The blog posts starting from September 2012 follow my final year on the course. I'll be documenting my research and analysis of my final year projects, as well as include notes of my Professional Practice unit - which prepares us for a range of post graduate options. Finally it also looks at a project called New Creatives, where I'll be working alongside an artists to help college students get more involved with art.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Underpayment in Australia

So this is a little bit of a different and controversial post. I have thought a lot about whether I wanted to blog about this or not, and I know my parents would definitely say no... but I thought it was really important to share my story. I'm a little nervous about writing this, so lets just get started.

Melbourne CBD is notorious for underpaying their staff. I'm not saying all businesses in the CBD underpay their staff. There are tons and tons that obviously do, but a lot of them don't. Some companies pay cash in hand and pay as little as $13 an hour for adult casuals in the fast food industry. The official minimum wage in Australia for a 21 year old (or over) casual employee in the fast food industry is $22.48 an hour. There are cases where different agreements have been set up, so don't get your facts from here. I was working as a casual employee and did not get paid the correct amount.

This post is to create awareness of this issue, I know I'm not the only one in this situation and it would have helped me a great deal if I had found someone else in this position and read about their story. If fact, just google-ing information about this subject is pretty tricky. There are a lot of hits where businesses have had to pay fines, but I have never found anything from the employees point of view. I won't disclose any personal information eg. my boss, where I worked, the amount I was paid etc.

At work my friend and I got chatty with customers, it's one of the highlights of working there. Whenever we worked on a public holiday, customers would say how unlucky we were for working, but at least we'd get double pay. What..? We would always just chuckle and say we don't do that here, and get some strange looks from people. The more we heard it the more we started to think about it. One person actually told my friend they would phone fair work on her behalf.

Fair Work gives advice and helps you understand your workplace rights and responsibilities. They were our first point of contact. We wanted to see what was going on and what we were legally entitled to. We used their pay rates calculator and decided to phone Fair Work themselves to see if what we had found out was correct in the first place.

As a casual employee you get a loaded rate, which means you get paid more than an employee on a contract. This is because as a casual you don't get any annual or sick leave and you don't have a guarantee of work. You also receive penalties (extras) for working evenings, weekend, saturdays, sundays and public holidays. Again this is different for every type of industry. I just looked at the fast food industry. 

Fairwork confirmed our speculations so we decided it was time to talk to our boss. It wasn't an accusing conversation, we all just sat down and chatted about whether or not he knew about it and where to go from here. It didn't go great. Obviously confronting your boss about something like this is never going to go well, but we knew we were in the right and his actions were illegal. He talked about some kind of agreement he had with Fair Work that allowed him to pay us less. These things do exist, so again, speak to fair work and they will have records of this. Even with this agreement, he was still underpaying us. 

The next day I decided to lodge a complaint against him. And a few days after that I quit my job. 

What are my workplace rights?
Under the Fair Work Act 2009, you have general workplace protections that protect your rights to:

  • a benefit, role or responsibility under a workplace law, instrument (eg. an award or agreement) or order made by an industrial body (eg. the Fair Work Commission)
  • start or take part in a process or proceedings under a workplace law or instrument (eg. a conciliation or court action)
  • make a complaint or enquiry about your employment to a person or body to seek compliance with a workplace law or instrument (eg. calling or making a complaint with us)
  • take part in industrial activities (eg. a strike)
  • be free from discrimination
  • be free from undue influence or pressure when negotiating individual agreements.

It took about 2 weeks before I heard anything back from Fair Work. It was the most nerve-wracking experience to go through. The first step is for Fair Work to understand the situation. I included payslips and timetables with my complaint, so they knew my side, but they had to speak to my boss and hear his side. The first step is very annoying. Fair Work isn't allowed to have an opinion really, they just play buffer between the employer and the employee. This went no where. It actually got so bad that my boss approached me in the street and told me he phoned immigration on me for stealing. Terrifying. 

That's when I felt like it was all too much for me to handle. I was in Australia to have a fantastic time and now I might be deported. It wasn't about receiving what I was owed anymore, it was about right and wrong. 

I went straight to the Fair Work office in tears. They were incredibly kind and helpful and thankfully were allowed to have an opinion. I had all my documents with my on a USB stick (that was luck, I don't carry it around for fun!) so I had a chat with them about the situation. They informed obviously the situation wasn't going to be resolved easily so the next step would be mediation or take it to a small claims court myself. 

I was dreading mediation, and called it off immediately. But the lady on the phone reassured me it was the best option so I went ahead with it anyway. 

Mediation normally lasts about 20 minutes and is a phone conversation between the employee and the employer with a mediator. It's a very controlled situation where both parties have the chance to explain themselves and get to a solution. You are allowed to have someone present with you on the phone as support, but I went ahead and did it by myself. My boss had his lawyer listen in. 

I'm not allowed to say anything about what happened in the mediation, but all I can say is it lasted 2 weeks. As you can imagine it didn't go to plan. All sorts of lies were told and even though I had an overwhelming amount of evidence, it wasn't enough. Next step would be a small claims court. This is where Fair Work leaves you and you kind of have to try and sort it out yourselves. 

I decided not to take it to a small claims court. This situation was probably the most difficult situation I've been in. It's incredibly emotional, scary and nerve-wracking. It wasn't about receiving what I was owed, it was about right and wrong. His actions were illegal and the way he handled the situation was even more frustrating. 

In the end, nothing happened. That's the most infuriating thing of it all. I went on a roller coaster of emotions, all for nothing. And that is why I decided to write about this. I want some kind of justice and getting the story out is kind of that. I'm creating awareness of the situation and maybe it'll help someone. 

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