Gen United

Junior rates are age discrimination – Is this a form of wage theft?

In this blog we’ll be covering:
💸 Why junior pay rates aren’t fair.
💸 How much less are junior rates?
💸 Are junior rates wage theft?

Reading time

2 minutes

Published on

Did you know that age discrimination is legal when it comes to paying people under 21?

Say you’re 20 and you’ve been working as a barista for 2 or 3 years. Then someone who’s just turned 21 – with no experience at all – comes to work alongside you. They will legally be paid a higher hourly rate than you.  

Research suggests Australia’s entrenched ‘wage-theft culture’ – that benefits bosses – is what makes it ‘acceptable’ to pay young people less for doing the same jobs as their co-workers.  

It’s not legal in most other countries. 

We’ll talk about ‘wage-theft culture’ in our next blog, but first, why is it ok to pay people less simply because of their age? 

Laws that govern junior rates are based on outmoded ideas about families and types of work. We no longer live in a world where “Dad” is the main breadwinner.  

Many under-21s know more about technology than people much older than them.  

Age discrimination is unacceptable, so why is it legal?

How much less do I get if I’m under 21?

Minimum and award wages, set each year by the Fair Work Commission (FWC), apply only to people over 21 years of age.  

If you’re under 21, you get a percentage of the adult minimum.  

The table below shows just how much less young people get paid for the same work done by people over 21.

You might think this is reasonable if you live at home and are being supported by your parents, and whatever you earn from your job is ‘pocket money’.  

Think again! This is not the situation for A LOT of young people.  

Receiving less than the minimum award could be the difference between poverty (even homelessness!) and a living wage – especially in a cost-of-living crisis. 

Most young people work in industries that require unskilled or low-skilled workers, like hospitality, retail and labouring.  

This means that you’re probably performing the same job with the same skill level as your co-workers, but being paid less because of your age. 

Why do we accept this? Some experts think it’s because wage theft has been normalised. 

More info:

The problem with junior pay rates (McKell Institute). Read more.

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