Young adults will see their wage rise by about $2 an hour

Date

Gareth Hutchens

Young workers in the retail industry have won the right to an adult's wage. Twenty-year-olds working in retail will see their wage rise by about $2 an hour according to a historic decision by the Fair Work Commission.

Twenty-year-olds were paid 90 per cent of an adult working full- or part-time minimum wage before Friday's decision. But the ruling means they will be paid the same amount as 21-year-olds.

It comes after a two-year battle by the union movement, spearheaded by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association. SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer said it was a great decision and had come after a long struggle.

"We heard the decision during the afternoon tea break today and I just shared it with some delegates," he said. "There was spontaneous applause because this means a lot to people, you know?"

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Mr Dwyer said the union believed more than 12,000 young workers in NSW would receive the pay rise.

But the retail industry is crying foul. Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman said the decision would devastate youth employment because employers would be more likely to hire older workers with more experience if they are going to be paid the same wage.

"The unions will push to raise the wages for 18- and 19-year-old workers now," Mr Zimmerman said. "It is only the thin edge of the wedge.

''It means that retailers won't be able to employ young people; instead they will go for older people with more experience."

Employer group the Australian Industry Group warned the commission's decision on junior rates ''risks destroying the job prospects of many young Australians''. But the Fair Work Commission says its decision on junior awards was based on several reasons.

"At the age of 20, a significant number of employees in the retail industry have at least three years of experience," the commission said. "[And] there is generally little difference in the work and duties performed by 20-year-old and 21-year-old employees in the Retail Employee Level 1 classification under the Retail Award."

"[And] most retail employees in this classification achieve a satisfactory level of proficiency in respect of their duties and responsibilities after about six months of employment."

Even so, Mr Zimmerman said the decision was inconsistent with previous Fair Work Commission decisions, making it obvious that this was a "narrow review". He said previous decisions by the commission had held that major changes like this required expert evidence.

But Mr Dwyer from the SDA said some retailers had already started paying young workers the full adult minimum wage so the decision would "level the playing field" for workers in the industry.

The new rates will be phased in from July.