Gary Collis, South Australian Employee Ombudsman, has lambasted the fastfood industry for its poor treatment of young workers, a situation that he says compares to that of chimneysweeps working for a pittance a century ago.

“If you look back 100 years, when you had kids going up chimneys for a penny, we say: ‘That was a century ago, look at how we’ve progressed’,” he told the Adelaide Advertiser: “And then you look at the complaints we get from (fastfood) employees, parents of employees and even members of the community, you have to question: Have we really come that far?”

Collis reported that he receives 100 largely informal complaints from young employees every year, and that bullying and illegal practices are widespread. Formal complaints are rare, he said, because employees are anxious not to lose out on shifts.

The fastfood industry was highlighted in his comments for paying workers aged between 16 and 20 years only between 50% and 90% of a full adult wage. Such “high-intensity” labour should receive a higher wage, he argues.