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Young Aussies could ‘work for free’ as tough times bite

Young Aussies desperate to get ahead after losing their jobs in the COVID-19 crisis face being asked to work for free by struggling employers.

Workplace experts told the Sunday Herald Sun Australia's tough economic climate and high youth unemployment rate set the scene for a spike in worker exploitation and underpayment. For-profit companies have advertised for "volunteers" to fill professional positions and ads for unpaid interns are expected to rise.

Labour law expert Professor John Howe said: "There will be businesses that unfortunately look to cut costs with labour, whether that's through underpayments or through these types of work-for-free ­arrangements. I think that's quite likely in the difficult economic ­environment."

Unemployment figures released this week revealed teenagers and young workers lost a stunning 100,000 jobs over the month of May alone - nearly half of all job losses. Since March, under 25s have lost 329,000 jobs, representing the largest single aged group in the COVID-19 unemployment figures.

 

The hostile economy has smashed the youth unemployment rate.
The hostile economy has smashed the youth unemployment rate.

And while the new job figures put the official unemployment rate at 16 per cent for young workers, economists say the true figure is much higher.

Prof Howe said underpayment was an issue before the coronavirus pandemic hit, and was likely to get worse now times were tougher. He said the hospitality industry in particular was on its knees after the COVID-19 lockdown.

"Now that things are much more difficult economically … labour could be seen as a cost that some businesses in that industry seek to cut," Prof Howe said.

And hospitality was not the only industry which would be affected, he said.

One advertisement seen by the Sunday Herald Sun last week sought "volunteers" to create health, wellbeing and lifestyle content for what appeared to be a life-coaching company. An ad placed by a young man who had lost his job during the pandemic and offering to labour for free for a fortnight "to prove myself to prospective employers" was also seen in a shop window.

United Workers Union national secretary Tim Kennedy said young people and immigrants were at particular at risk.

"Every day the union hears from workers who have been subject to wage theft," he said.

Originally published as Young Aussies could 'work for free' as tough times bite


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