Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Junior Pay, Senior Responsibilities: The Experiences of Junior Child Care Workers

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Junior Pay, Senior Responsibilities: The Experiences of Junior Child Care Workers

Article excerpt

Junior wages have existed, in various forms, for a hundred years, and are commonly justified by an assumption that juniors are less likely to be able to perform required tasks to the level expected of adult workers (McDonald, 1991). Day (1998) argues that junior wages allow companies to employ juniors and not have to subsidise their wages to a pre-determined adult level in excess of the value of the work they perform. This is thought to result in more widespread willingness to employ juniors, thus decreasing the youth unemployment rate.

In Australia, in the mid to late 1990s, debate about the fairness of junior wage rates, and the possibility of alternatives to junior wages, resurfaced. Many claimed that abolishing junior wages would result in a significant increase in youth unemployment. For example, Prime Minister John Howard is said to have claimed that up to 300,000 young people would lose their jobs if youth wages were abolished and replaced with adult wages for all (Australian Youth Policy and Action Coalition, 2001). Lewis and Mclean (1999) provide an analysis of employment outcomes of abolishing the junior wage. They conclude that employment of 15-to 19-year-olds would decrease to almost nil if all juniors were paid an adult wage. If an adult wage were paid to 18-year-olds, employment for juniors under 18 would decrease by 30 per cent.

The Australian Industrial Relations Commission set up an inquiry into junior rates of pay in 1998 and released its findings later that year (Parliament of Australia, 1999-2000). The Commission reported that 75 per cent of major Federal Awards and 40-50 per cent of certified agreements contained clauses which allowed for junior wages. The report also points out that the duty of the government is to protect young workers (who are still defined as children's from exploitation and social neglect. Notwithstanding these points, and recognising that junior wages were discriminatory (and required modification of the Human Rights Legislation to be legally acceptable), they reported finding more reasons to retain junior wages rather than to eliminate them.

A number of submissions to the inquiry focused on the important principle of `equal pay for equal work' (for example, Australian Council of Social Services, 1998), a principle recognised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The ILO does not specifically recommend against junior wages (Australian Industrial Relations Commission, 1998), but requires that they should be paid at rates consistent to the level of work they perform. Where workers perform the same work as adults, the ILO expects they shall be paid the same rate as adults.

Subsequent to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission inquiry, junior wages continue to apply in those awards and agreements that already contain reference to them, but cannot be added to new awards and agreements (Colebatch, 1999). However, unions are free to ask the Industrial Relations Commission to remove junior wages from awards and agreements, and employers may ask the Commission to add junior wages.

Child care workers operate under awards which specify that junior workers aged between 14 and 16 are paid 50 per cent of the minimum adult wage (Child Care [Subsidised Centres] Award No A26 of 1985; Children's Services [Private] Award No A10 of 1990). This increases until workers aged 21 receive the full adult rate. Most state regulations require the presence of a person over 21 on the child care premises, but there are no other specifications which identify the requirements of junior staff. Given that students can now enter TAFE on completion of Year 10 (i.e. by the beginning of their 16th year), it is possible they may be working as qualified staff by the time they are 18, with all the responsibilities associated with a qualified position, and still receiving a junior wage. It is appropriate for the child care industry to review the inclusion of junior wages in the award to determine if, for this industry, they should remain. …

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