Your First Job and Your First Pay

Starting out in your first job can be daunting, and there's a lot to find out – quite apart from the starting time, how long the workday is, what you're expected to wear, or when lunchtime is. One of the more important things to take with you on your first day of work is knowledge of your rights as a young worker.

While most employers are honest, there are unfortunately some who are not who may try to take advantage of staff who are unfamiliar with the work environment.

What's okay; what’s not okay?

Unless you volunteer, you should never be asked to work for free. Although there are some unpaid work trials or internships that are lawful (these are known as ‘vocational placements’) it is important that the arrangement does not result in your doing ‘productive’ work (that is, something that is earning profit for the boss) while you yourself are not paid for that work.

You should also be paid for all the hours you work, including the time spent opening or closing the business, and attending training and/or meetings. Unless the boss asks you and you agree, start and finish times are part of your work conditions (no matter how quiet or busy it is).

Casual work versus full-time & part-time work

Casual workers are usually not paid annual leave and personal leave, but full-time and part-time workers are.

However, national workplace laws mean casual employees must generally be paid a ‘casual loading’ (an amount extra to the base rate of pay) which makes up for the lack of other

Casual workers are also less likely to have standard hours of work each week, compared with full-time and part-time employees. They may also be asked to work at short notice.

However, after 12 months of regular casual employment, and if it’s likely this will continue, a casual employee can request flexible working arrangements. Changing status to full or part time can be done at any time with agreement from both parties.

Getting paid, and getting taxed

Before giving you your first pay, your employer will ask you to fill out a Tax File Number (TFN) declaration form so they can hold back from each pay an amount for tax. You'll need to supply your TFN for this (or apply for one). This is part of the PAYG (pay-as-you-go) withholding tax system.

Basically, the PAYG system works like this: each pay period your employer withholds from your pay an amount of ‘income tax’, calculated as a proportion of what your annual salary is expected to be. The tax withheld is paid to the tax office; after the end of each financial year you are required to lodge with the ATO a ‘Tax Return’ showing the amount of tax you have paid, and the tax deductions you are entitled to claim. If you have paid too much in tax (and some people do this deliberately as a form of forced saving) you will receive a tax refund; if too little tax was withheld from your earnings, you will receive an assessment notice asking you to pay the outstanding amount.

It is important that you do not hand over your bank details or your TFN before you actually start the new job. It has been noted by authorities that unscrupulous fraudsters have been posing as employers in order to get bank details and TFNs of job applicants.

Depending on how much you are paid, tax is taken out at different rates, but you are not taxed on the first $18,200 you earn in a financial year (July 1 to June 30) because this is the ‘tax-free threshold’ below which no income tax is payable. Any monies you receive above that amount, including those from Centrelink or your employer, will be taxed.

Note, however, that if you have more than one job, or work parttime and receive Centrelink payments, you must choose one payer from which to claim your $18,200 tax-free threshold for that financial year. You will have to choose who you claim the threshold from whenever you start a new job and fill out the TFN declaration form; you can only claim the tax-free threshold from one employer or one payer (such as Centrelink) at a time.

Employers are required by law to comply with some essential tasks when paying staff, such as:

  • pay the correct rates for all hours worked, including time spent attending compulsory work meetings, training, and time spent opening and closing the business
  • issue a pay slip within one working day of pay day
  • pay any applicable penalty rates for working public holidays
  • pay weekend and penalty rates, if they are in the employee's workplace agreement (these are common for people covered by awards)
  • pay on a regular basis – usually per week or per fortnight, but at least monthly.

Your pay slip will show amounts for gross pay and net pay. If, say, your annual wage is $30,000, that is your gross pay. The amount you actually get paid each pay period is your net pay, which is the amount left after tax has been withheld.


If you are 18 or older, and you earn $450 or more (before tax) in a calendar month, your employer must make superannuation contributions on your behalf. If you are under 18, you earn $450 or more (before tax), and you work more than 30 hours in a week, your employer also must make superannuation contributions on your behalf.

Are you being paid correctly?

It is important to check your pay slip to make sure you are getting paid the right amount; you can also go to the Pay Calculator on the Fair Work Ombudsman Minimum Wages web page* to check. It is OK to get more than the minimum pay, of course, but being paid less than that is unlawful. The minimum wage is set by law to protect workers whose employment conditions are not legally defined by awards or agreements; the minimum wage is reviewed annually.

Young workers need to be aware of the award system for people aged less than 21 years of age. People who are younger than 21 years are paid a percentage of an adult rate for the same job. The percentage of pay a ‘junior’ gets increases as they get older.

If you have a question or concern about your pay, or about any other aspect of your employment, such as safety at work, talk to your boss. Employers are only human and may have simply made a mistake, and probably will be happy to make a correction. But if you are not satisfied, or still have any issue, you can always refer to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The Fair Work info line is 13 13 94.

Provided by Taxpayers Australia.

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