Young and underpaid: Your definitive guide to getting the money your boss owes you


May 21, 2018 05:18:30

So, you’re worried you’re being underpaid.

Maybe it’s because your mates are earning more for doing the same job.

Or because you worked the weekend and you were only paid a flat rate.

Here’s our definitive guide on what to do.

First, check out what you’re meant to be paid.

Jump onto the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website and punch your details into the pay calculator.

You’ll have to provide some information like how old you are and if you’re an apprentice.

Once you’re done, it’ll tell you exactly how much you should be earning per hour, per week and for every night or weekend.

You can also use a new pay checker that’s been created by a new union group, Hospo Voice, but you can only get access if you sign up to the union, and that’ll cost about $10 a month.

Speak to your co-workers

If you find out you’re being underpaid, have a chat to the people you’re working with.

“Generally if one person’s getting underpaid, it means that multiple people are,” says Keelia Fitzpatrick, the coordinator of the Young Workers Centre in Melbourne.

You’ll probably want to approach your boss as a group, like some staff at Barry Cafe in Northcote did recently.

“We always say that there’s power in numbers, you shouldn’t go to meetings alone with an employer,” Ms Fitzpatrick says.

Get together a record of the hours you’ve been working.

What do I say to my boss?

Keep it simple, says Ms Fitzpatrick.

“You say that you went on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s site and got some information about the minimum rate you should be paid for working in your industry,” she said.

Afterwards, put everything in writing, including your questions to your boss and a request that they resolve the issue informally.

Let’s say it was all one big mistake and your boss is sorry.

If that’s the case, you should be receiving back pay either in one lump sum or over the course of a few months.

What if my boss refuses to do anything about it?

This is where it gets tricky. You need to escalate the problem.

Take your paper trail, including your email to your boss and the hours you’ve been working, and go to the Fair Work Ombudsman or the hospitality union, United Voice.

If you’re in Victoria, you can contact the Young Workers Centre.

“Often an employer is more likely to respond to a letter or an email from one of those bodies, rather than from one of their workers, unfortunately,” Ms Fitzpatrick says.

My boss has docked my shifts/fired me. Help.

This happens often, but it’s potentially illegal.

“It’s actually unlawful for an employer to dismiss someone, or to refuse to hire someone, or to take away shifts simply because someone has asked about a workplace right,” Ms Fitzpatrick says.

If this happens to you, you have to file what’s called a General Protections Dismissal claim, which puts your boss on notice.

You do this through the Fair Work Commission but there’s a limited timeframe.

You have to do this within 21 days.

“Once you’ve filed your form with the Fair Work Commission, it will be sent to your employer, who is required to respond to the allegations and put their side forward,” she said.

“It will then go to a conciliation through the Fair Work Commission where we try to resolve it.”

Does this mean I’ll get my job back?

Maybe, but probably not.

“Often it’s about coming to a settlement figure with the employer, which doesn’t involve reinstatement. It involves money to cover the loss of wages that you’ve had since you lost the job,” Ms Fitzpatrick says.

How long will it take to get my money?

It depends, but anywhere from a few weeks to more than a year.

Sometimes the businesses that get letters from unions or legal centres decide to fix the problem quickly, but others can draw the process out.

“Don’t expect to get the money overnight,” Ms Fitzpatrick says.

“Strap in for a long-winded process that can involve lots of letters.”

If you do get your money back, but you were being paid cash in hand, you might get a visit from the tax man.

“Generally the tax office is not going after quite small amounts of money that young people haven’t been upfront about,” Ms Fitzpatrick says.

“You may be facing probably small consequences from the tax office.”

If I have to wait for so that long, is it really worth it?

According to Ms Fitzpatrick, it definitely is.

“Don’t be discouraged by the formalities and the waiting period,” she says.

“This is money that you are rightfully entitled to under law.

“The more people that stand up for the money that they’re owed and the more people that stand up against wage theft, the more employers are going to realise that they can no longer get away with it.”






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