A group of five Year 13s from Christchurch are trying to abolish the starting-out wage.

The group, which calls themselves ‘No Starting Out Wage’, has started a petition to amend the Minimum Wage Act, which gives employers the legal right to pay teens who are starting work less than everyone else. 

Representative Ben Bothamley-Low spoke to Re: News about who they are, why they’re campaigning, and their hope for the future.

What is the starting-out wage?

At the age of 16, you have the right to drive, to move out from home, to marry and to join the Defence force. However, you aren’t necessarily entitled to a minimum wage.

Instead, you get the ‘starting-out’ wage. It’s the minimum wage given to 16 and 17-year old workers who have not yet completed six months of continuous work with one employer. 

As of April this year, the starting-out minimum wage meant young workers get $18.16 an hour, compared to the adult minimum wage of $22.70. 

In some cases, this means young workers are being paid 20% less than their adult co-workers for the same work.

The wage was implemented as an incentive for businesses in Aotearoa to hire younger employees starting their careers. Businesses get cheaper employees - and young people are employed. Win-win right?  Hmm, not quite. 

Who are you?

We’re a group of five Year 13 students and we are campaigning to abolish the starting-out wage.

We’re also interested in protecting the rights of young workers, making sure there’s no exploitation in the workplace. That’s really important to us.

In our senior social studies class we had an assessment where we had to target a policy, and we decided you know - go big or go home. So we decided to tackle the starting-out wage. 

It first came on our radar when I was actually paid it. It wasn’t so much of a big deal for me, my family isn't really struggling through the cost-of-living crisis or anything, we’re doing alright so it wasn’t a massive deal.

But a lot of our friends and coworkers and other people we know in general said how it affected them.

We live in an area where there is a bit of poverty around, and people don’t always have what they need. So it’s pretty hard seeing people not being compensated for their work.

There's not really a lot of choice of where you can get a job sometimes, especially in small-town New Zealand, there might only be a couple employers for young people.

Why is it important?

People our age think, ‘You just need a bit of pocket money’, but it’s not really about that, people our age still have cost of living to deal with. 

We have cars, we have to pay petrol, insurance, helping out our families, saving for uni or whatever you want to go and do. It’s really costly to be our age.

So young people [think], ‘Alright, I have to settle for bad pay, I’m doing the exact same job as my coworker standing over there next to me, but I’m getting paid less for it for no reason’.

It’s basically that or potentially just not having a job at all, so you’re kinda stuck between a rock and a hard place.

What is your hope for the future?

We hope the starting-out wage will be gone, that we’ll always be paid at minimum wage. The whole minimum should be minimum. 

But to a wider extent we are not going to stop when the starting-out wage is gone. I say ‘when’ because we're going to fight till it's gone. 

We're not going to stop until we have done to the best of our ability to protect young people in the workplace.

[We hope] that you are able to get a job and it doesn't matter where you work, what you do for work or what your interests are. That you can go to work and you have the same rights as anyone else, that you get paid a fair wage and that you're not exploited in any way.

It comes down to people being compensated for going to work.

More stories:

Should gender be part of sex education?

Currently there are guidelines for teaching relationship and sexuality education (RSE).

Do voters feel like youth crime is getting worse?

We asked them if the issue will affect how they vote in the upcoming election.

The convoy returns to Parliament

Several groups involved in the convoy occupation of Parliament returned today.