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Young Workers Unfairly Dismissed

September 24 2007 - Research by the Faculty of Business at Queensland University of Technology investigated more than 1200 complaints of unfair dismissal made to the Young Workers Advisory Service by 15 to 24-year-olds and found that almost one in five was sacked for being sick, injured or for responding to family problems. Researchers found that many had taken only one day's sick leave and one-fifth had provided a medical certificate. Representing 20 per cent of the Australian labour force, researchers argue young employees are particularly vulnerable because they are over-represented in part-time and casual jobs in hospitality and retailing.

Lead researcher Dr Paula McDonald said:

"Several cases described serious medical problems that clearly restricted the employee's ability to attend work, such as a heart attack, wisdom teeth removal and cancer."

Researchers found that that 80 per cent of the young workers sacked after being injured had suffered the accident at work.

Paula McDonald commented:

"In one case, a male apprentice required eight weeks off work due to an injury he suffered on the job. The employer initially agreed to the time off then terminated the apprenticeship once the young man returned to work."

Other key findings include:

  • 19 per cent left work because of bullying and harassment of which a quarter cited sexual harassment (mostly women)
  • 18 per cent of dismissals involved accusations of crime (theft and fraud) or misconduct (more commonly involving males)
  • 14 per cent of dismissals involved pay or contract-related issues and complaints
  • 12 per cent were alleged to have performed poorly
  • 10 per cent of cases involved discrimination (usually against women with pregnancy a common factor)
  • 8 per cent involved operational factors such as redundancy or reduction in hours

Researchers conclude that young employees need support and information about their rights to a safe and fair workplace from parents, educators and community agencies.

Paula McDonald added:

"These young people don't match the Generation Y stereotype of savvy career-builders. They are perceived as being disloyal job-hoppers, but that is an unfair accusation because young workers often have to cope with insecure work environments, low wages and anti-social working hours.

"Some employers exploit the vulnerability of young employees and capitalise on their inexperience, limited representation and relative difficulty in seeking legal advice. Some also treat young workers as disposable, especially in this sample who are generally low skilled and who work in precarious, casual positions. These workers are often treated more unfairly because they are more easily replaced, compared to highly skilled workers who are more difficult to replace."

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