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Ask us: the boss wants me to get an ABN for my paper round

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By Rights Watch

Help at work from Australian Unions

Friday, 12 April, 2013

AARON asks: Hi. I’m 13 and have been doing a newspaper round once a week before school. I deliver the free local newspaper. It’s pretty good and I get about $11 an hour which his ok. I get a bit more if I have do a lot of advert stuff in the paper. Last week we were told that the newspaper had been sold to another company and that the new company wanted us to sign some papers. I took them home to my dad who said it was wrong. He said to ask you guys and that I should tell you that they’re making us to pay for an ABN number , pay for superannuation which we have to do, take out a business insurance policy and a “public liability policy” whatever that is and a whole lot of other stuff. I can’t afford this I only get $11 ($15 max) a week. The new boss says we have to do it or there won’t be a job for us. We’re meant to turn up for our next shift a bit early so he can get our forms and also let us know when we have to get our round done by. Is this legal?

Aaron this is just outrageous. Basically they’re trying to make you and your friends independent contractors. What that means is that you’ll no longer be regarded as employees whose boss takes care of deducting tax on their behalf, pays WorkCover insurance so if you hurt yourself at work your doctor’s bills are covered, pays for superannuation contributions and takes care of all other insurance necessary in the running of their business. What your new employer wants is for you all to be treated much the same as a plumber who works independently – issuing invoices for work done, taking care of their own tax and insurance obligations. And they want you all to do this while earning the grand sum of $11 a week! It’s ridiculous – but definitely not funny.

There are some tests or things to be ticked off which determine if people are genuinely independent contractors. One of the big criteria is that an independent contractor is literally that – independent. They get to say when they work and how they work.

To go back to the plumber analogy, he or she can say “Sorry I can’t come out on Tuesday as I have another job, but I can see you on Wednesday.” I notice you mention that you’re all expected to turn up at a set time and be given the time by which you’re expected to work. You can’t say you’ll deliver the papers a different day because you have something on at school. In other words your boss is still acting like a boss – telling when and how to work, but they want you all to become independent contractors to save themselves money and to avoid their responsibilities.

There’s a name for this sort of behaviour Aaron – sham contracting. It’s unlawful and your new boss can get into trouble for it. Why don’t you give Unions Australia a call on 1300 486 466? They’ll be able to talk to you more about this and how you can report it as well as give you some general information about what your workplace rights are – how you should be treated and what’s not on.

Good on your dad for suggesting you run this by us and thank you Aaron for letting us know.

Got a problem at work? You’ve come to the right place. Share your workplace issues with our other readers and get free advice from the Unions Australia helpline if you have a problem with your pay, entitlements, health and safety or anything else at work. Phone 1300 4 UNION (1300 486 466).


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Working Life is a forum to share ideas and opinions about work and life, both light-hearted and serious. The opinions presented on Working Life are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent policies or views of the ACTU.

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