The workers of the Illawarra owe Ashleigh Mounser (pictured left) a debt of gratitude.
Or the (mostly) young, (predominantly) hospitality and retail employees working (probably) casual hours are the ones who should be sending enthusiastic thank you vibes her way.
Her bravery in coming forward to report underpayment of staff in some of Wollongong’s most popular businesses exposed the shocking but apparently widespread practice of wage theft in certain commercial sectors in our community.
She went on Facebook to vent about being offered as little as $10 an hour to work in a takeaway food shop. After asking if anyone else had experienced similar treatment, she was overwhelmed by complaints from 67 young workers within days of her posting.
The Wollongong uni student knew had to act and began collecting the stories to take to the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Fairfax Media spent two months talking with Ms Mounser and her original Facebook respondents, their employers and researchers about the illegal underpayment of workers under the age of 24.
What we uncovered was frightening to the extreme: not only are young Australians increasingly being ripped off, particularly in areas of high youth unemployment, many end up working for free in the desperate hope it may help them grasp a paid job.
Now, the NSW Labor Party has promised to act to criminally outlaw such practices.
Luke Foley’s announcement on Sunday that a state Labor Government would introduce laws to make it a criminal offence to deliberately underpay workers is a huge step in the right direction.
We also applaud his decision to hold franchisors accountable if their franchisees are found to be rorting the system.
Sure, there will need to be some ironing out of details, given a lot of employment law is covered by federal legislation, but where it can, a government must protect our young and vulnerable.
If that means throwing people in jail for underpaying workers, then so be it.
It can be hard enough as is to make ends meet as a late teen/20-something uni student, but failing to pay wages to which people are entitled makes it impossible, which can lead to all kinds of social troubles.
So Ashleigh, thank you for your courage and determination in seeing this shameful and unethical practice exposed and hopefully, soon abolished.
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