In mid 2020, the Young Workers Centre surveyed more than 400 young workers in Canberra to find out about their experiences of work during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic. The results are shocking but not surprising. The overwhelming prevalence of precarious, casual employment among workers under the age of 25, combined with federal government policies that left these insecure workers out in the cold, led to devastating impacts on the lives, study and work of young people.
The detailed survey collected information about young people’s employment, their experiences at work, and the impact of Covid-19 on their studies, their mental health and their safety and rights at work.
Seventy-five percent of respondents to the survey were insecurely employed – working in casual, contract or informal jobs. Most were employed in industries hard hit by necessary Covid restrictions. Between March and August unemployment doubled for young workers as many were cut out of access to JobKeeper by the Federal Government’s arbitrary exclusion of casual workers who were with the same employer for less than 12 months. For those who did keep some employment, their hours dropped drastically and thirty three percent reported struggling to cover the cost of living and sixty two percent report being anxious about their financial situation.
For those who were working, thirty nine percent reported feeling unsafe and forty three percent said they did not have access to adequate safety protections at work. Insecure work is unsafe work with young workers being worried that if they speak up about safety and other rights, they won’t get more work.
The epidemic of wage theft where unscrupulous employers rip off young workers by not paying correct wages, penalty rates or superannuation continued during the pandemic with twenty seven percent of young workers, rising to forty seven percent of workers under the age of 18, saying they had wages stolen in the previous year. Precarious casual employment means young workers don’t have the security to raise issues of wage theft. One quarter reported feeling unable to raise issues of underpayment for fear of losing their jobs.
The 2020 Young Workers Survey continues shows the ongoing devastating impacts of precarious employment on young workers. Action must be taken so that young workers have access to work which is not exploitative and provides them with the security to protect their rights.
For a copy of the report, email youngworkerscbr.org.au.