Friday 30 September 2011

Advisory for Parents of Working Youth

While updating my resume, adding to it my year long experience working in a local grocery store, I'm thrown into thoughtful reminiscence.  I enjoyed this job, filling displays of fresh produce, assisting shoppers with a kind word, and checking expiry dates.  The hours were even sufficient in the beginning...though the dreaded and ridiculous four hour shift still haunts my dreams.  I mean, four hours’ worth of pay hardly seems worth the fuel to drive in for some people!  But I soon began to see new names on the schedule.  Names of 16 year old boys who had no idea what “Organic” meant or why a customer might request it.  Young high school boys who don't understand why you can't have produce from different countries on the same table, or why bulk potatoes need to be covered at night to prevent sprouting....oh the list goes on.

Why then would the management want to bring in such an unqualified worker when I am there willing to take on the hours?   Initially I wondered if it’s because they can pay that boy a student wage? Great....even though he doesn't know what a Rutabaga is?  But no, our wage was the same.

So is there another reason why the young, naive, and fresh employees get hired and get my hours?  I soon began to realize that perhaps there is, when I finally found new employment and asked for my vacation pay.  Two other young employees gave their notice at the same time, as they were going off to school, and in chatting with them, I advised to watch for their vacation pay cheque which we all were to receive no later than two weeks from our last day worked.  Unfortunately, neither of these young workers knew what I meant or how much their vacation pay might be.....this was the only job they'd ever had!

Three weeks later, two out of three of us had received our cheques.  Cheques that were about a third the amount that they should have been.  It seems head office thought they had already paid us.  Okay.  I contacted my union rep and finally received my due amount.  The others were not so lucky.  One didn't call the union rep, and therefore had to wait until just before Christmas--almost four months later--to receive her payment.  The other has not received his at all, and is too busy with University to deal with it. 

Could it be that this is why some stores hire young people?  Because they can keep their vacation pay and pull the wool over their eyes at every turn?  Is this Capitalism in a small town?  When they’re doing their books, how would this extra money be categorized?  Does “Quickbooks” have a ‘miscellaneous income’ column?  All valid questions.

The vacation pay fiasco was by no means the only lack of disclosure I witnessed.  Our union agreement stated that all employees were due hours in lieu of a civic holiday if you worked that day.  But no one ever told me that.  And I was even told by a union steward that I would know these things if I had attended the union meetings.  I assume this also applies to the 15 and 16 year olds?  So you honestly expect these youth to sit through regular union meetings for a weekend and after-school job?  This is how they are supposed to educate themselves about their employment rights?   Wow…..not exactly full disclosure!  

When you are hired at this store, you are given information on WHMIS, Safety Standards, and what to do if you witness a thief.  But you’re never told that if you work a civic holiday, you get paid extra hours in lieu of time off.   In other words, they are sure to cover any topics that keep their assets covered, but never anything about mine.  In fact, I was told by a past supervisor that she was advised by management not to tell people that they were entitled this extra pay!  Yes….you read that right.

In closing, I would like to take this chance to implore the parents of these fresh, young, after-school employees, to keep an eye on things.  Go over your teen’s pay stub not only to check for discrepancies, but to ensure that they understand their deductions.  Show your teen that this is their responsibility to make sure that they are getting what they deserve and what they've worked for.  It’s a little bit of control that a lot of teens yearn for.  In my limited opinion, this is not how we want our youths’ first employment experience to be.  

Is full disclosure really so detrimental to the success of a business that they would go to these lengths?  Do we not want our youth to grow up aware and in control of their own income?  Perhaps we should consider removing “Romeo and Juliette” from the curriculum and replace it with “Understanding Your Employment Rights”.  Because after all, our youth are our Country’s future, and I want them to be informed.

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