“Employers may try and make the most out of you, squeeze you dry, but stand strong and you will get action.”
With an attitude like that, Lucy Vance is a beacon of hope for young people everywhere – “stand strong” if something isn’t right in your workplace, she says.
Lucy was underpaid hundreds of dollars while working at Wollongong’s Lagoon Restaurant last year. On Tuesday, after months of union-led consultation, she got her backpay – in full.
The student’s plight was first revealed in a Fairfax Media probe into the underpayment of young employees.
Lucy was one of 13 workers – allegedly underpaid, or not paid at all, by their employers – who shared their story as part of the investigation.
All 13 had their backpay cases prioritised by the South Coast Labour Council.
On Tuesday, a roundtable gathering of business and union representatives, politicians and young workers heard Lucy was the first of the workers to be back-paid.
“I was working there [the Lagoon] for about six weeks and it’s between a hundred and two hundred dollars per week that I worked there that I managed to get back,” Lucy told the Mercury.
“That was usually two shifts, about nine hours a shift, so that was a fairly substantial amount of money at the time when I was working there, straight out of school.”
It was three months after she quit her job at the Lagoon when Lucy spotted a Facebook post about young workers being underpaid.
That post, by fellow worker Ashleigh Mounser, asked if anyone else had experienced similar treatment.
Complaints came from 67 young workers within days and Fairfax Media spent two months talking with Ashleigh and other respondents.
As a result, Lucy was contacted by labour council secretary Arthur Rorris.
“Through Arthur’s work, he was able to contact the Lagoon and then they agreed on the settlement rather quickly, actually,” she said.
“They’re now paying all employees by the award rates, when previously they weren’t.” Mr Rorris acknowledged Lucy’s employer had “come forward very quickly” and “rectified the mistake”.
‘We’ve been inundated with calls about like situations’
The NSW Labor Party has vowed to make the widespread underpayment of young workers a priority in its policy planning ahead of the 2019 state election.
Speaking at a Labor and union-led roundtable – set up to explore workplace exploitation – the party’s industrial relations spokesman Adam Searle said legislative and policy options to tackle the issue would be examined. “We’re here today [Tuesday] following the disclosure by Fairfax Media about widespread underpayment and non-payment of students and other young workers,” Mr Searle said.
“We’ve been inundated with calls about like situations, not only in the Illawarra but more broadly, so it's clearly a pretty vexed issue.”
The talks, at the University of Wollongong, came on the back of Fairfax’s ‘Great student swindle’ investigation.
Keira MP Ryan Park said reforms so “we don’t see young workers … exploited and taken advantage of”.
“I want him [Mr Searle] to hear ... firsthand experiences,” Mr Park said. “He’s down here today [Tuesday], so that our policy is developed from the ground up.”