Stories from the dumpster fire of dodgy jobs

So your boss won’t give you a payslip … Eliza Spencer found out the hard way just how easy it is to get into some very dodgy situations, and she has some advice on how you can keep your head above water.

Balancing study, life, and making rent can mean you pick up some pretty shitty jobs, but when does a job that you just don’t like turn into something that’s on the edge of exploitation, or even breaking the law? Fresh out of high-school with no idea what made up a tax return, or how awards rates worked, I was broke and desperate for a job. After spending a gap year wasting my savings in Europe, I headed online to score what I thought was the perfect job – nannying. With high pay, flexible hours, and being backed up with the experience of babysitting my two younger siblings through school, I thought that it’d be a breeze.

Youngest tax-evader yet?

I was wrong, very, very wrong. To start with, listing your age, image and location as an 18-year-old girl on babysitting classifieds is a sure-fire way to get some sketchy messages from nice dads looking for some extra help. After a few dodgy requests for mother’s-helpers (a glorified term for underpaid cleaner), live-in au-pairs with ‘free rent and board for seven days a week work’, I found a position with a great family caring for their young toddler. All seemed well, the pay was the most I’d seen at any job, and I was treated like part of the family. It wasn’t until tax time when my accountant father asked how my invoices were going that the panic set in. Six months of cash under the table payments that I definitely wasn’t keeping track of, and two weeks to get it together before the tax office decided to follow up. A few late nights helped get my tax together on time; I’ve blocked out just how much I had to pay back to the ATO. Lesson learned, always ask for a payslip, turns out I have a legal right to one! 

Charity case

Desperation for rent money again manifested itself a year and an interstate move later. Raising money for charity seemed promising, their staff were exciting and inspiring, and the thought of making a tangible difference had me hooked. There were real payslips, good rates and two weeks of training, all perfect.

The romance didn’t last long. I was the only woman on my door-knocking team, and we were all split up across three different blocks to walk the chilly Paddington streets long after the winter sun had set. If it were light outside, maybe I wouldn’t have felt so unsafe, but knocking on alleyway doors with my supervisor a block away, the terror was enough for me to hand in my ID badge and branded tee that evening. While I wasn’t being financially duped, or unintentionally evading the tax office, none of my interviews or training mentioned these risks or expectations. Nobody likes a bait and switch at the best of times, especially so when what’s been explained during interviews or training is completely different from the actual job. That, dear reader, is cause enough to call out a dodgy job and get the hell out of there.

Can I speak to the manager?

My last job revealed that I might have a thing for overachieving at the cost of, well, cost. With no prior retail experience, I was opening, closing and ordering items for a store – copping the flak for the inevitable mistakes and staying extra unpaid hours to ‘make up’ for money lost. To be fair, my boss didn’t know I was staying an extra two hours weekly to figure out just why we were short on the till, or manually stocking the warehouse after hours because the courier couldn’t be bothered unpacking the pallet.

Paid as a retail assistant, a retrospective check of the Fair Work Ombudsman Pay and Conditions Tool showed I was fulfilling the roles of a manager, or 2IC, just without the pay rise. Combined with only being offered casual work despite Fair Work ruling that after one year of consistent hours I could request to be employed as a part-time employee, I look back at this job and shudder thinking that I didn’t realise how sketchy it was sooner. Sitting at the desk of my current job, where I have study leave, weekend rates and responsibilities that equate to my experience… I wish I’d left earlier.

Uni students will always be caught in a hard place trying to pass their final comms group assessment while also trying to keep a roof over our heads. Thankfully, there’s plenty of support on-campus to help find a job that won’t leave you underpaid and overworked. Until then, there’s always ethical unpaid internships to make any job seem worthwhile.

If you’re looking for a job or internship that is in the Communications field, check out UTSoC Careers. For all your career-related advice, head to UTS Careers.

Eliza Spencer is a second-year Journalism student chasing stories and living off coffee. Catch her filling a roll of film in the backstreets of Sydney or sipping a soy cap on campus, always trying to find the next great story and live a little more in the present.