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Is Gen Y to be our next beast of burden?

By Sebastian De Brennan - posted Wednesday, 21 December 2005

If you are a young Australian, then you better brace yourself because the Baby Boomers in politics and business are setting themselves up for retirement on the backs of Generation Y.

That’s right, when business leaders and politicians assert that “youth are the future” and the “leaders of tomorrow” they mean it!

The marches and demonstrations in major cities throughout Australia indicate that many Australians are concerned about the proposed industrial relations reforms.


It has been suggested that the further emphasis on individual employment contracts could:

  • undermine award and collective agreement conditions;
  • lead to greater control over working hours;
  • promote the further casualisation of the workforce;
  • erode current entitlements (such as weekend, shift and public holiday rates; overtime; redundancy pay  allowances; and casual loadings); and
  • establish a situation in which employers only have to provide workers with a minimum hourly rate of pay currently $12.75), eight days’ sick leave, and two weeks’ annual leave (which, it would seem, can be “bought out”), together with unpaid parental leave.

What has been less conspicuous in the debate, however, is the deleterious impact that the IR package will have on Australian youth, aged 16-24 (who comprise some 14 per cent of all Australians).

Of course, a number of commentators have pointed out that young people are often too timid to ask for a pay rise in the current atmosphere of individual wage bargaining, and that it is all very well for older generations, with their extensive employment histories and CVs, to secure the job and the conditions that are right for them. But there seems to have been little systematic analysis as to just how oppressive these conditions might be on “young Australia”.

Let’s be clear, young Australians are not some kind of powerless, helpless, innocents in all of this. Despite our continued marginalisation from policy-making in this country (aside from the occasional token gesture), we continue to make our voice heard.

Indeed, much has been said in recent times about the power that Generation Y will command in the marketplace. A fellow Generation Y member, Peter Sheahan, is a leading expert on this.


He states, “There is not only a shortage of labour right now, but there is a massive shortage of talent. If you want to take your business to the next level than you will need to be able to attract, manage and engage the best young talent”.

Nevertheless, I think this may overstate the power that youngsters can wield as a group; at least for the moment. My experience is not that the young people can demand from their employers the conditions they want.

And this is not, as some people think, just a “blue collar” phenomenon either. Top-tier law firms, for instance, generally have more than 1,000 applicants for just 80 positions. If you happen to be one of the 80 fortunate enough to be called in by the partner of the firm, you’re hardly going to start insisting on certain employment conditions.

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First published in The Canberra Times on November 25, 2005.

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About the Author

Sebastian De Brennan is principal of De Brennan & Co. Consulting and teaches in the College of Law & Business at the University of Western Sydney and the School of Business at the University of Notre Dame Australia.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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