Young Workers' Rights


Many young people are unaware of their rights or too afraid to stand up for themselves in the workplace.

For young workers, particularly those who may just be starting their first job, there is a lot to learn and it can be overwhelming and confusing at times.

Being a Union member means you are protected at work and have access to expert information, advice and representation.

We have a dedicated Information Helpline for members and SDA Officials regularly visit worksites.

Joining a Union connects you with thousands of young workers across Australia who are standing up for their rights.


Just starting your first job?


Starting your first job is an exciting step in life, but it can also be a bit daunting. Young employees are particularly vulnerable as they often don’t know their entitlements or have the courage to stand up for themselves when needed.

Being a member of the SDA means you can access information and receive expert advice on your rights at work - you also don’t have to go it alone.


There are lots of things to think about when you're employed, including...


- The Enterprise Agreement or Award that you will be working under. You should proceed with caution if it is proposed that you will be working under some other arrangement.

- Your contract of employment. How is your job described; a trainee, apprentice, casual, part-time or full-time employee?

- What classification or grade will you commence on?

- What will be your hourly rate of pay? If junior rates of pay apply, when will increases be due?

- When and how do you get paid?


Some of these terms might be confusing to you now, but it's important for you to learn about what you're entitled to.


a-z: what you need to know


Check out the list below of some of the most important things you need to know about your job.

Keep in mind that this is only general information, and you will need to refer to the Agreement or Award that covers your workplace to find specific information for your circumstances.

Don't forget, if you're looking for specific information about something, you can use the 'search' button in the top right-hand corner to look through our articles and resources!


Questions? Reach out to us here.

Not yet a member? Join the SDA here.


Apprentices and Trainees

Apprentices and trainees have special rules that apply to their employment contracts. These rules are provided to ensure employees receive structured training and attain recognised qualifications in their chosen industry or trade. Training may be partially outside of work.

If you are offered a traineeship, there must be a written training plan between your employer and the training organisation, registered with the State Training Authority, which manages your training program. Employers must also register apprentices with the Apprenticeship Board.

Trainees and apprentices are entitled to the conditions of employment set out by their relevant Enterprise Agreement or Award as well as overriding legislation.

Rates of pay, however, are generally a percentage of full rates of pay according to the completed level of education.


Bullying, harassment and workplace violence

Unfortunately, bullying, harassment and workplace violence continue in a number of workplaces today.

All are completely unacceptable and must not be ignored or tolerated. They are wrong because they attack and undermine the dignity of the person.

In all cases bullying, harassment and workplace violence must be taken up and properly addressed. As your Union we are happy to help with these matters, please contact our office.



Meal breaks (also known as lunch breaks) are typically unpaid breaks of 30, 45 or 60 minutes duration. Enterprise Agreements and Awards usually provide for a meal break and its duration, when a person has worked for at least five hours continuously.

Rest pauses (also known as tea breaks) are paid breaks which are normally 10 minutes (not including walking time). These breaks usually apply when a person works four hours, or more than four hours, depending on the Enterprise Agreement or Award.

Crib breaks are typically 20 minute paid breaks, taken when convenient.

Check your Enterprise Agreement or Award as to what breaks you are entitled to, on the shift you work. Contact the SDA office if you are unsure what breaks apply to you.

Breaks are not optional. You have an absolute right to receive and take them when they fall due.

Your employer is obliged to know what these entitlements are and apply them to all employees.

Enterprise Agreements and Awards contain specific provisions that require employees to have breaks. They detail the entitlements to meal breaks (lunch breaks), rest pauses (tea breaks) and crib breaks (mainly for those who work at night, on their own or on shifts where the store is closed). Our bodies need breaks so we can relax from the pressures and routines of what we are doing. This, in turn, helps our concentration on the job – which means we are less likely to make mistakes or have accidents.

Employers have the right to determine when a break is taken, subject to the conditions set down in the Enterprise Agreement or Award that applies. However, employers do not have the right to:

Deny employees their breaks because there are not enough staff,

Require an employee to work through their break,

Require an employee who has gone off on their break to come back to work before the break is finished, or

Reduce the length of an employee’s break to a period less than provided for in the Enterprise Agreement or Award.



Workplace counselling is done by employers to assist and educate employees regarding work-related matters. It is also sometimes undertaken to deal with work performance issues.

Employees should insist on having a witness of their choice present at any counselling session.

It is illegal to force, or try to force anyone to answer a question. An employee can choose which, if any, questions to answer.

An employee can adjourn a counselling at any time, if they feel the need to. Importantly, an employee cannot be required to go into or remain in an office, unless they are under arrest.


Dealing with problems and issues

It is very important that if problems or issues arise at the workplace, they are dealt with and properly sorted out. Experience shows that problems or issues rarely correct themselves automatically. Action must be taken to deal with and resolve problems or issues, and as your Union, we are here to help.

Problems can vary in nature – from disputes between employees to problems with pay, sexual harassment, rostering concerning performance issues – and everything in between.


Grievance procedure

Most Enterprise Agreements and Awards contain a Grievance Procedure or Disputes Procedure. Such procedures detail a systematic step-by-step process for dealing with and resolving problems or issues at the workplace. Most procedures give employees a right to representation and contain timelines that require matters to be raised to a higher level of authority if they are not resolved.

Two possible forms of resolution are conciliation, where the parties agree on an outcome, or arbitration, where matters are determined by a third party. The Fair Work Commission works to resolve disputes under the terms of an Award or Enterprise Agreement and also disputes arising under the general protection provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009.



It is important to know that all the work you do must be paid.

It is unlawful to put a person on trial and then terminate them without pay. This applies even when it is described as ‘training’.

On the other hand, most new employees who start a job are on trial for a period of time called ‘probation’. The exact period of probation varies according to the employment contract or Enterprise Agreement, Award or legislation.

During probation, either the employee or employer can terminate the employment relationship without giving a period of notice. However, any work that has been done by the employee must be paid for.

After the probationary period, it is required that both employee and the employer give a specified period of notice to terminate the contract of employment.

Casual employees can be called into work on an hourly or shift basis so do not have to give the 'notice' that permanent employees do.


Leave entitlements

Employment Contracts, Enterprise Agreements and Awards all contain detailed leave provisions. All employees should become familiar with them.

They include:

  • Annual leave,
  • Long service leave,
  • Sick leave,
  • Bereavement leave,
  • Family/carers leave,
  • Parental leave, and
  • Emergency service leave.

In some cases the leave is unpaid, while in other cases it is paid.

In most cases, casual employees are not entitled to paid leave because they receive a special loading included in their hourly rate.

While it is best practice to show an employee’s leave balances on their pay slip, it is not a requirement. However, employers must tell employees their leave balance, if they ask for it.


Minimum engagement

Enterprise Agreements and Awards detail how long your minimum engagements (shift lengths) must be when you’re called into work.

Full-time and part-time employees usually have a weekly average minimum number of hours that they are engaged for. Weekly hours are determined by agreement between the employee and their employer, but cannot be less than the minimum specified by their Award or Enterprise Agreement. Once contracted for a certain number of hours, they must get paid for at least this minimum each week/fortnight. Additional hours can be worked, but must be paid for at the appropriate rate.

Casual employees don’t usually have a weekly minimum, but work on an hourly or shift basis. However legally, shift minimums are typically three hours. This means you cannot be put on a roster for less than three hours and if you are sent home after two hours, you still must be paid for three (the only exception to this rule may be for training purposes).



You must be paid for all the time that you work. You must be paid ordinary rates, ‘flex up’ rates, penalty rates, loadings or overtime as appropriate to your circumstances. Under no circumstances should you ever work without pay.

There are many examples of employees working and not being paid, or not paid the correct overtime or penalty rate. These include:

  • Working before a rostered shift commences
  • Working through rest pauses or meal breaks
  • ‘Clocking off’ and then going back to work
  • Taking work home e.g. paperwork
  • Working after the rostered finish time (e.g. 10 or 15 minutes) and not getting paid
  • Coming in on a day off or while on leave, and not getting paid, and
  • Being put on ‘trial’.

If any of these situations arise at your employer’s direction, you are entitled to be paid at the correct rate.

Casual employees receive an additional loading on their rate of pay, (typically between 20 and 25 per cent) in lieu of a range of entitlements that permanent employees receive.

Enterprise Agreements and Awards contain specific provisions detailing when employees must be paid. It is usually weekly or fortnightly and on a specific day. Most employees are paid electronically directly into their bank account, but payment by cash or cheque is also permissible.

An employer may not make deductions for your pay without your written authorisation. The only exception is tax.

Employees must also receive a payslip after being paid, detailing the hours worked, the rate of pay, total earnings, tax deducted and other relevant information.

Under law, employers must contribute an amount to an eligible employee’s superannuation account. This is money invested for your retirement. You are eligible if you earn more than $450.00 in ordinary time earnings in any month. If you’re under 18 years of age, your employer is also obligated to pay super, if you work at least 30 hours a week. You may make your own contributions to your superannuation fund too if you wish.


Penalty rates, allowances and entitlements

Often allowances may apply - and where this happens, you must be paid them correctly. To take the most common examples, your pay must include, where appropriate, penalty rates and allowances for working certain times and days; these penalties cover situations such as public holidays, Sundays, overtime and night shifts.

Casual employees also receive an additional loading on their rate of pay (typically between 20 to 25 per cent) in lieu of a range of entitlements, such as annual and sick leave, which permanent employees receive.


Pay, tax and superannuation

Enterprise Agreements and Awards contain specific provisions detailing employee entitlements, including when you must be paid - usually weekly or fortnightly, and on a regular day of the week (e.g. Thursday). Most wages are paid electronically, directly into your nominated bank account, but payment by cash or cheque is still permissible in some cases and you should still receive a payslip.

An employer may not make deductions from your pay without your written authorisation, subject to some exceptions in accordance with the law. As an employee, you must receive a payslip that details the hours worked, the rate of pay, total earnings, tax deducted, and other relevant information. Under law, employers must contribute to an eligible employee’s superannuation (super) account. For more details regarding your superannuation entitlements, please click here.


Pay rises and birthdays

Many Enterprise Agreements and Awards contain provisions that allow employers to pay young employees at reduced rates. These rates are more commonly known as ‘junior rates of pay’ and usually apply to employees under 21 years of age. Although you are considered an adult at 18, junior rates can still apply. The SDA feels this is wrong, check out our 100% at 18+ campaign here for more info and to show your support.

Under these junior provisions, employees receive wage increases on each birthday until they reach the ‘adult rate of pay’ as defined by their Enterprise Agreement or Award. These age-based wage increases are paid in addition to other general wage rises received by all employees.

If your regularly rostered hours are replaced or reduced in favour of new, younger employees, solely on the basis that your rate of pay has increased following a birthday or because the new employee is paid at a lower rate of pay, you should speak up.

While it is not discriminatory to pay junior rates, it is still unlawful to treat employees differently on the basis of their age.


Rosters and roster changes

Full-time and part-time employees are entitled to a roster. A roster sets out the regular starting and finishing times for the shift to be worked out each week across a two to four week cycle.

Most Enterprise Agreements and Awards require employers, when establishing or changing a roster, to have regard for the family responsibilities of the employee, and whether the employee can access safe transport home.

Some Enterprise Agreements and Awards also require employers to consider the employee’s study and sporting commitments.

There may be other matters which are important to you and which you want your employer to take into account when setting rosters. If this is the case, you should make it known to your employer at the time that you are hired.

Most Enterprise Agreements and Awards also specify:

  • That employees will be given a regular roster which is not subject to frequent variation.
  • Rosters cannot be altered with the intent of avoiding payments or benefits applicable under the Enterprise Agreement or Award.
  • Other matters relating to rosters which are typically covered by Enterprise Agreements and Awards include:
  • The maximum number of consecutive days that can be worked
  • The minimum and maximum number of hours that can be worked on a shift
  • The number of consecutive days off an employee must have per week or fortnight
  • The maximum number of hours that can be worked per week or roster cycle
  • The minimum break between shifts
  • Whether or not all or any of the above should be paid at overtime rates.

The Enterprise Agreement or Award which applies to your work will contain specific provisions relating to rostering. Your employer is obliged to know what these entitlements are, and apply them correctly.



Being a student and juggling work is hard, especially as many students work casually or part time so it’s even more important to receive the hours and wages you’re entitled to. As most students are young, they may not know their rights or feel confident in standing up for themselves.

The SDA is here to provide expert advice to members and speak to employers on your behalf if needed. We also help with disputes or harassment issues, and negotiate Enterprise Agreements and Awards to ensure employees are working in fair and safe conditions while being paid correctly.

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