19 May 2017

Young Canberra workers being bullied, belittled and sexually harassed

| Glynis Quinlan
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Young Canberra workers are being bullied, belittled and sexually harassed in disturbing numbers according to a new research released by UnionsACT.

According to the report released yesterday, 70 per cent of ACT workers aged between 15 and 25 have experienced bullying or harassment at work and half of all young workers have worked in unsafe workplaces.

Young women were more likely to be sexually harassed or feel unsafe the report states, while workers under the age of 18 were also being placed in unsafe conditions despite the additional ACT laws to protect them.

The UnionsACT report throws the spotlight on a vulnerable young Canberra workforce that is at times accepting intolerable behaviour from bosses and fellow workers in order to keep their jobs. Their comments to the researchers paint a concerning picture.

“Had 10 cents per hour deducted for asking why I was being underpaid,” said one 18-year-old worker.

“When I worked for an upper-class restaurant I was sexually assaulted a number of times. This was molestation, not rape, but I note that after I complained to my supervisor after the fifth time it happened, there were no repercussions for him, and I had to continue to work with him and deal with his touching and comments. One of my male co-workers eventually spoke to him, and he left me alone. This went on for about two months,” said a 24-year-old worker.

“My boss at the pizza place was really horrible to me in every shift and then fired me for no reason,” said a 16-year-old worker.

“There was one instance where the cafe had a faulty power point back of house and one young worker got zapped, so the bosses tried to comfort her and be super nice obviously so that she wouldn’t fill in an incident report. An older worker also got zapped and he pushed the bosses to do something about it,” said a 21-year-old worker.

“I was threatened with rape by an anonymous note at work,” said a 21-year-old worker.

According to UnionsACT, young workers are injured at up to twice the rate of the rest of the workforce. In the last 12 months, there have been a number of serious workplace injuries involving children and young people in the ACT, including injuries to a work-experience student and an apprentice.

Young people easy targets for exploitation

UnionsACT secretary Alex White said that from their very first job, thousands of young Canberra workers are experiencing unsafe working conditions, bullying and sexual harassment.

“Our research shows that many young peoples’ first experience as a worker is of serious risks, injuries, threats and intimidation, and unlawful behaviour by employers,” he said.

“Young workers are entering the workplace without knowledge of their rights to safe work.

“It is unacceptable for employers of young people to put them in unsafe conditions or to break workplace safety laws.

“It is even more unacceptable that some employers treat young workers as easy targets for exploitation.”

What can be done?

The report states that UnionsACT wants to increase awareness of workplace safety among young people and work with the ACT Government to strengthen protections for workers under the age of 18 as well as increasing penalties for workplace safety violations.

They also want to work with the ACT Government to introduce stronger requirements for apprenticeship and trainee providers to provide safe workplaces.

The UnionsACT research was carried out in January and February this year. It involved interviews in person and online with a randomly-selected sample of 263 people between the ages of 15 and 25. The report can be downloaded by clicking here.

Are you a young worker who has been bullied, harassed or placed in unsafe conditions or do you know someone who has? Let us know about your experiences in the comments and also what you think should be done about it?

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