Young women more likely to be exploited at work than men: report

When Blair Williams worked at a fast food chain as a 14-year-old, she and other young workers were often rostered on to "close" the store a few times a week.

The rostered finish time was always an hour after the store closed, but the clean up always took at least two hours, sometimes up to three, for which she and her coworkers were never paid.

Young women at work face higher rates of exploitation, a new report has found. Photo: Supplied

Young women at work face higher rates of exploitation, a new report has found. Photo: Supplied

When Ms Williams spoke up and asked to be paid for the extra hours, because it was impossible to finish the required tasks within the rostered shifts, she was told she had to do the work, or face no longer getting rostered on for any shifts at all.

"They blamed it on us and said you're taking too long."

Now an academic at the Australian National University, Ms Williams said she wasn't surprised to read a new report from Unions ACT, which found that young women were more likely than young men to be exploited in the workplace.

"I felt a lot more vulnerable, I didn't know my rights and these people were exploiting us," Ms Williams said.

"I was clueless and everyone around me was clueless, but the managers weren't clueless."

Unions ACT will today launch the report on the experiences of young women in the workplace, which finds young women were more likely than their male counterparts to be casual or underpaid at work. More than 200 young people were surveyed, half of which were women.

While 45.4 per cent of young men reported being employed on a casual basis, 52.1 per cent of women in the same 15- to 25-year-old age group said they were casual at work.

Just over 67 per cent of young women reported being unpaid or underpaid at work, compared to 57.8 per cent of young men.

Almost a quarter of young women reported being bullied or harassed by a co-worker, and 27.4 per cent said they had been bullied or harassed by their supervisor or employer in the past 12 months.

While both young men and women reported low rates of understanding their rights at work, just 17.9 per cent of women knew what the minimum wage was, compared to 35.6 per cent of men.

Unions ACT secretary Alex White said the organisation had re-launched its womens' committee last year and said the purpose of the survey was to measure if the experiences in the capital were the same as those reported elsewhere in Australia.

Mr White said the survey showed the gender pay gap started even in minimum wage jobs.

"It carries right down, literally the first job you get when you're a young woman you're being paid less than a young man doing the same work in the same industry, and that was surprising," he said.

"The other thing that surprised us was that when young workers experienced wage theft, the bosses that steal from them, steal from young women more than they steal from young men."

The union recommended that both young men and women be better educated about their rights in the workplace, and for the ACT government to run an awareness program with employers about gendered violence in workplaces.

The unions also used the report to push a previous call for an employer certification system, where workplaces with more than five employees would need to be audited to show they comply with workplace health and safety laws. Mr White said he hoped to meet with the ACT government to discuss the report.

Ms Williams said she hoped the report would make a difference for workers in similar positions to the one she was in some 10 years ago.

"They're the most vulnerable workers in our society and they should be far more protected than I was," Ms Williams said.