Young workers across the nation could soon get a pay bump as unions seek to bring 18-year-old workers’ earnings in line with the adult wage.

Unions on Thursday filed a “groundbreaking” application asking the industrial relations watchdog to abolish “discriminatory” junior rates in retail, fast food and pharmacy awards and pay the full adult rate for workers 18 and over.

Currently, workers under the age of 20 in retail, fast food and pharmacy are paid less than the full adult wage.

Younger workers in those sectors across Australia will see a lift in wages if the case is successful, with benefits expected to flow onto enterprise agreements with junior rates.

The proposed changes could also result in a pay bump of between five to 10 per cent for workers under 16 to 50 per cent of the award and a 15 per cent pay increase for 17-year-olds.

The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association national secretary Gerard Dwyer said some retail and fast food workers had many years experience in the sector by the time they were 18.

“If you’re of adult age, you should be paid an adult wage,” Mr Dwyer said

“There is no justification for them being paid 30 per cent less.”

The union said young people in Australia faced the same cost-of-living pressures as everyone else but were discriminated against in terms of wages.

The Australian Retailers Association accused the unions of rushing through the bid without consulting with industry.

Chief executive Paul Zahra said there was a fine line to keep conditions sustainable for both employees and employers.

“Junior rates are used to incentivise employment of young people who are less skilled, giving them an entry point for their careers,” Mr Zahra said.

“Without these rates, these young people may otherwise struggle to compete against older, more experienced applicants.”

He is concerned about the impacts the proposed changes could have on struggling retailers experiencing a “cost of doing business” crisis.

“Many employers in the retail, fast food and pharmacy sectors are small businesses – mum and dad operators – who are severely challenged and simply can’t afford another wage hike,” Mr Zahra said.

The Fair Work Commission on Monday raised the minimum and award wages by 3.75 per cent from July.

Source: AAP