Australia’s future workforce: Young workers as industrial citizens

The Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing will partner with the Griffith Business School’s Alumni portfolio next month (21 August), as an expert panel of industrial relations (IR) and human resource (HR) researchers and practitioners discuss over breakfast the make-up of Australia’s future workforce and its wellbeing.

Contributing to the panel is WOW’s Associate Professor Janis Bailey, an IR researcher with a long-serving practitioner background as a union industrial officer, Industrial Commission assistant and government consultant. With colleagues, Paula McDonald (QUT), Robin Price (QUT) and Barbara Pini (Griffith), Janis has recently sought to understand how school-aged workers (13-16 years) from 19 Queensland schools participated in, and were socialised to become, full and equal members of their workplace communities — a process known as industrial citizenship — by examining three things: what they understood about, and how they enacted, their employment rights; the environment (domain) in which their ‘citizenship’ played out; and their social location (or status) within the work community. Janis explains:

“School aged workers have a unique type of industrial citizenship because they’re forming their ideas about what work is in a formal economy, and what their role is in it. Consequently, they have less experience and capacity to bargain with employers and less knowledge of their rights than adult workers.”

Overwhelming, respondents framed their rights around financial and safety entitlements, with the former embracing issues like correct rates of pay for hours worked and known limits to the availability of shifts. The latter was framed around rights to physical (rather than psychological) safety; and employers, teachers, unions (to a lesser extent), and parents (overwhelmingly), were sources of information about these rights. Dominant too was the research team’s constant need to clarify that ‘rights’ were in fact entitlements (and not the student-workers’ responsibilities to their employer).

“Youth are vulnerable as a result of eroded protections around safety, remuneration and job security. This is underpinned by factors such as deregulated trading hours, increased consumerism, an abundance of casual retail and services sector jobs, access to youth welfare allowances and the lower cost of youth labour,” adds Janis. “I’m always pushing the barrow that employment relations… is key to making good public policy regarding employment matters, and key to employers’ management of employees.”

Associate Professor Janis Bailey
Associate Professor Janis Bailey

As for the make-up of Australia’s future workforce, Janis(pictured left) and her colleagues are calling upon schools, governments, employers and trade unions to think not only about the rights of these young industrial citizens, but how they can enable them at this early stage of their participation in the labour market to exercise these rights with a view to becoming engaged and committed adult citizens; and not just in the workplace. Janis concludes:

“Young people’s vulnerability means that they should be of special concern to governments and employers. Students enter employment not only for lifestyle choices and financial gain, but also with a future-orientated focus on securing fulltime employment and improving life chances.”

These findings were published in the Journal of Sociology (2014, volume 50, issue 3) in an article entitled ‘School-aged workers: Industrial citizens in waiting?’. For further reading on younger worker’s protections, Janis recommends ‘Daggy shirts, daggy slogans? Marketing unions to young people’ (with co-authors Robin Price, Paula McDonald and Lin Esders; Journal of Industrial Relations, 2010, volume 52, issue 1).

Registration for the 21 August GBS Alumni-WOW Breakfast series is now available – Griffith staff, students and Griffith Business School Alumni: $45 per person; general admission $50 per person.