Why should the employment of young workers be an area of focus?
The latest report on Engagement in Work and/or Study (based on persons aged 15-24), released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in early 2023, defines “full engagement” as either working full-time, studying full-time, or simultaneously working and studying. Partial engagement is characterised by either working part-time or studying part-time, including those enrolled in school.
According to the report, only 8% of individuals aged 15-24 were not engaged in any work or study in 2023, marking a downward trend from 10% reported in 2014, with the exclusion of 2020 which reported 12% (with 2020 being a year heavily affected by Covid-19 lockdowns in Australia).
This indicates that there is an increasing number of young people entering Australia’s workforce.
As a business owner, HR professional, manager, or as otherwise a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), one of our key responsibilities is to ensure the safety, well-being and success of all employees, including young workers. Employing young workers involves adherences to applicable laws, regulations, and practical considerations aimed at safeguarding their rights, promoting their education, and fostering a positive and safe work environment.
Most states and territories have their own set of laws governing the employment of young workers, (commonly defined as individuals under 18 years old). These laws encompass various aspects, including the minimum employing age, types of permissible work, maximum working hours, and parental consent requirements. It’s essential that applicable stakeholders familiarise themselves with the specific regulations that apply to their jurisdiction, in order to ensure compliance and mitigate legal risks.
Further, there were relatively recent changes to Victoria’s Child Employment Act 2003 (VIC) as a result of the Child Employment Amendment Act 2022 (VIC). These changes affect many young workers in Victoria and came into effect from 1 July 2023. For more information, please see here.
Minimum Age and Work Restrictions
In some states / territories there is no set minimum employing age. However, generally speaking, for those below the age of 18, exceptions, conditions and restrictions apply to prevent an impact on school attendance and ensure safety. These include but are not limited to, supervision, parental consent, limited working hours, etc.
In ACT, WA, NSW, QLD and VIC, some employing arrangements require written parental consent before the employment of a young person commences. This consent not only ensures legal compliance, but also fosters transparency and communication between employers and parents.
Record Keeping and Documentation
Most states/territories also have specific requirements for record keeping when engaging a young worker, in addition to those obligations specified under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).
When engaging a young worker, you should ensure the records kept include:
- the young worker’s full name, date of birth, address, and phone number;
- the name/s, address, phone number (home and business) of the young worker’s parent/guardian;
- the name/s, address, phone number of an emergency contact (in the event the young worker’s parent/guardian is unavailable);
- copies of any special documents (e.g., parental consent form);
- the nature of the work to be performed by the young worker;
- the date/days on which the young worker may be required to work;
- the number of hours worked by young worker (per day and per week), including start and finish times;
- the details of the breaks taken by the young worker; and
- the details of the person in the business responsible for supervising the young worker.
Practical Tip: Remember to keep a record of any young worker’s date of birth to work out their pay rate. Set up a reminder to adjust the pay rate when they have a birthday (until they reach the adult pay rate).
Workplace Health and Safety
While young workers possess the capacity to make sound decisions and distinguish right from wrong, their ongoing brain development (generally finishing in an individual’s mid-to-late 20’s) renders them more susceptible to acting on impulse and engaging in risky behaviours, scientifically speaking. Their cognitive processes may not yet fully prioritise considering the consequences of their actions or adjusting their behaviour accordingly.
Young workers, by nature, are generally more impressionable and vulnerable, further reinforcing that specific workplace health and safety considerations should be had. More pertinently to employers Positive Duty obligations.
Consequently, ensuring a safe work environment is paramount when employing young workers. Employers should prioritise safety training, hazard identification, and risk mitigation measures to protect young employees from workplace accidents and injuries. Regular risk assessments, safety protocols, policies and procedures, and ongoing consultation and communication about workplace safety are essential components of an effective safety management strategy.
Leading from the front
In the realm of becoming a choice employer, it’s important to address the traditional narrative surrounding differential treatment of young workers, which often centres on issues such as junior pay rates, casualisation status, and introductory level classifications. This is especially prevalent in sectors like hospitality and retail, where young people are predominantly employed – with many entering the workforce for the first time.
While, generally speaking, these practices may be argued as an acceptable means to provide training opportunities for those entering the workforce, some of these practices can also impact those seeking employment to cover escalating accommodation, living costs, and daily expenses.
Cultivating a workplace culture of fairness, respect, and opportunity for all employees, regardless of their age or educational status is one that can set your company apart from recruiting competitors, by positively contributing to your Employee Value Proposition (EVP).
Employing young workers requires a nuanced understanding of legal requirements and strategic opportunity. Therefore, employers should:
- understand and adhere to legislative requirements;
- prioritise safety by implementing robust workplace health and safety measures, with specific consideration to young workers;
- support young workers’ educational commitments by offering flexible scheduling options and opportunities for skill development (e.g. further educational programs and initiatives);
- uphold ethical standards by promoting open communication, preventing bullying and harassment, and fostering a supportive work environment for all employees;
- promote innovation and creativity to cultivate a diverse and dynamic workforce; and
- uphold principles of fairness and equity, fostering an inclusive workplace where all employees are valued and respected, regardless of age
How we can help
To learn more on how one of our HR Business Partners can support your organisation, with legal compliance, workforce capability and workplace health and safety, please contact us.
Further supporting information
About Employment Innovations
Employment Innovations is one of Australia’s leading providers of employment services designed to increase productivity and ensure compliance. Its services and solutions include all the tools that every Australian small to medium sized employer needs – including workplace advice, workplace safety, legal services, payroll solutions, migration, human resource management and HR software.
The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact Employment Innovations for advice.