Your first job

Starting out in your first job can be daunting, and there’s a lot to find out – quite apart from the starting time, how long the workday is, what you’re expected to wear, or when lunchtime is.

One of the more important things to take with you on your first day of work is knowledge of your rights as a young worker. While most employers are honest, there are unfortunately some who are not and who may try to take advantage of staff who are unfamiliar with a working environment.

What’s not okay?

If you’re put on for a ‘trial’ you still need to be paid. Unpaid trials are not condoned by workplace laws, and unless you volunteer, you should never be asked to work for free. You should also be paid for all the hours you work, including the time spent opening or closing the business, and attending training and/or meetings.

Unless the boss asks you and you agree, start and finish times are part of your work conditions (no matter how quiet or busy it is). It is also compulsory to be given a pay slip, and generally to get it within one day of being paid.

Casual versus full-time & part-time

Casual workers are usually not paid annual leave and personal leave, but full-time and part-time workers are. However, national workplace laws mean casual employees must generally be paid a ‘casual loading’ (an amount extra to the base rate of pay) which makes up for the lack of other entitlements. The loading, for workers covered by the national minimum wage (see below) must be at least 21%.

Casual workers are also less likely to have standard hours of work each week, compared with full-time and part-time employees. They may also be asked to work at short notice.

Awards and wages

Young workers and their employers need to be aware of the award system for people aged less than 21 years of age. People who are younger than 21 years are paid a percentage of an adult rate for the same job. The percentage of pay a ‘junior’ gets changes depending on the employee’s age. For example, an 18 year old would get 70% of what an adult would get, according to their pay scale. If no junior rates are set out in the pay scale, the employee must get adult rates.


From January 1, 2010, the new modern awards system covers most businesses in the national system, and replaced most existing arrangements completely from July 1, 2010. This includes pay scales. Some modern awards have commenced before then, but some may be in changeover even after July 2010.

You should at the very least get the minimum wage, which was set at $560.90 for a 38 hour week before tax at the time of writing (but check that website for updates). It’s OK to get more of course, but being paid less than that is unlawful.

The minimum wage is there to cover workers not covered by awards or agreements. The national minimum wage will be set by Fair Work Australia and reviewed annually (check the link above).

Paying young workers: The checklist

Employers must follow this checklist for ALL junior employees:

  • pay the correct rates for all hours worked, including for compulsory work meetings, training and time spent opening and closing the business
  • issue a pay slip within one working day of pay day
  • pay for ‘trial work’ unless it’s part of an approved education or training course.
  • pay any applicable penalty rates for working public holidays
  • pay weekend and penalty rates, if they are in the employee’s workplace instrument (these are common for people covered by awards)
  • pay on a regular basis – usually per week or per fortnight, but at least monthly.

Fair Work Australia has provided a checklist that you may find helpful (click here to get the My employment checklist, which you can print out).

Your employer will need you to fill out a tax form so they can hold back an amount for tax from each pay. This is part of the PAYG (pay-as-you-go) withholding tax system. You’ll need to supply your tax file number for this. Depending on how much you’re paid, tax is taken out at different rates.


As an added service, Fair Work has a tool called ‘PayCheck’ that will calculate pay rates for most common occupations or job descriptions, and more occupations and industries will be added over time. PayCheck will update pay rates with any changes resulting from Fair Work Australia’s annual wage review. The 2010 annual wage review took effect from the first full pay period on or after 1 July.

The base rates of pay calculated by PayCheck are minimum rates of pay only. Click here to access the tool PayCheck.

And for other tools to help you find your right pay, including finding the most relevant award and a pay rates calculator, click here.


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