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News News Pay review may put more on junior rates
A FAIR PAY COMMISSION review of junior and trainee wages could clear the way for lower pay in the construction and energy industries, say industry leaders and unions.

The commission's head, Ian Harper, has also conceded that adults on trainee wages could see their pay adjusted "according to their competitiveness".

The commission yesterday released two papers, one reviewing junior and training wages, the other examining pay and classification scales.

Under workplace relations laws, all employees over the age of 20 must be paid the national minimum wage, which after October 1 will be $522.12 a week for full-time work. "Unless you're a junior, a worker in a training program, or a worker with a disability, then it is unlawful for you to be paid less than the federal minimum in a federal jurisdiction," Professor Harper told the Herald.

But many young people - especially those in the construction and energy industries - work under pay scales that do not include junior rates, meaning they, too, must earn full adult wages. Employer groups are pushing the commission to introduce junior rates into a raft of new sectors.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has led the television advertising campaign in support of the Howard Government's Work Choices legislation, yesterday urged Professor Harper to "expand the youth wage system for new entrants into industries where it currently does not apply".

The chamber's director of workplace policy, Peter Anderson, said: "Traditionally, youth wages have mainly existed in the service industries. There are gaps in the system, such as the energy, electrical and construction industries, where workers are brought in on adult rates of pay."

Mr Anderson said paying adult wages to 15- to 20-year-olds - such as those working as unskilled brickie's labourers - deterred them from accepting lower-paid apprenticeships. "It has made apprentice work very unattractive," he said.

While the chamber's proposal would not affect young workers presently earning adult rates, Mr Anderson said it would apply to new employees.

But the ACTU's legal adviser, Richard Watts, feared the commission was spurring a "race to the bottom".

In the agricultural industry, where there were 84 awards, 16 did not permit junior pay rates. "But at the end of this review, if you're 19 or 20 and work in the rural sector, you could end up with your pay cut."

Professor Bill Mitchell of Newcastle University's Centre of Full Employment and Equity predicted employers would use the review to demand exemptions from the minimum wage. "For a long time they have been trying to set up one industry after another as a special case deserving of exemptions," he said.

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