Kalgoorlie teen says minimum wage increase leaves young people behind

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When the Fair Work Commission announced the minimum wage would be increased by 2.5 per cent this year, Savanna Llewellyn felt many young people like her had been forgotten.

The 19-year-old, who lives in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, the heart of a multi-billion-dollar mining district in regional WA, said working teenagers living out of home were struggling to get by on rates below the minimum wage.

According to the Fair Work Commission, the minimum wage increase to $20.33 an hour would apply to adults 21 and over, equating to an extra $18.80 a week.

Juniors would be paid a percentage of that depending on their age.

Ms Llewellyn said the extra $18.80 a week was nowhere near enough to make a difference for her and her partner Bryson Reardon, 20, who she had been living with since high school.

“$18 doesn’t go very far, it’s not a lot of fuel to put in your tank or much money that you can go shopping with,” she said.

“You get paid so little for doing the same work as everyone else but at the same time, you don’t get cheaper bills or cheaper rent or cheaper food.

“My rent at the moment is $260 a week and that’s one of the cheapest rentals in Kalgoorlie at the moment.”


At the age of 17, Ms Llewellyn was sharing a rental property with her partner and balancing her final years of school with about 30 hours of work for a major retailer on $15.80 an hour.

She said her hourly rate increased to $17 when she turned 18.

“It was pretty stressful because I was also doing two cert [certificate] fours at the same time,” she said.

“I had to get on youth support to help.”

Concerns for regional small businesses

Attracting and retaining staff has been a bigger problem than wage growth for some business owners in Esperance and the Goldfields.

Tourism operator Fiona Shillington said business owners had to go the extra mile to keep good staff.

“We’ve always paid considerably more than the average because we’ve had to,” she said.

The Esperance Chalet Village owner said this became a crucial part of her business’s culture as worker shortages rocked the local tourism and hospitality industry because of coronavirus border restrictions.

“We do pay more to get good people and retain good people,” she said.

For Kalgoorlie Hotel owner Craig Alderdice, offering higher wages hasn’t been fruitful.

“Don’t worry about wages, no-one’s here to fill positions,” he said.

Ms Llewellyn said keeping the minimum wage where it was would end up hurting small businesses because it was holding back some consumers’ spending power.

“People my age earning that amount of money usually can’t afford to actually buy things at businesses because all of our money goes on fuel and food and rent and bills,” she said.

“If we were actually earning a decent amount of money, we’d go shopping more and in turn that would help the businesses themselves because they would have more customers coming through.”

Wage increases stagnated before the pandemic

Average weekly earnings in Australia stagnated before the pandemic with wage growth, on some measures, at its lowest since World War II.

Efforts by business to cut labour costs and the weakening of union-driven collective bargaining have been identified as part of the problem.

With Western Australia expected to deliver a record budget surplus of about $5 billion, labour economics expert Mark Wooden said it was not translating into income growth across both public and private sectors.

“You’ve got the wealthiest state government in the country with the lowest wage increase for its own employees,” he said.

When former Treasurer Ben Wyatt delivered the 2020-21 State Budget, he said 150,000 public servants in WA would have their wage increases limited for the next two years.

UnionsWA secretary Owen Whittle said this would put further strain on people who continued to work on the frontlines delivering essential public health, education and emergency services in regional WA.

“They are having to cope with housing and other cost increases when the WA State Wages Policy delivers much lower pay rises than increases in such costs,” he said.

By Dinushi Dias and Elsa Silberstein (Original ABC Article)