How Does Your Income Compare?
by Rebecca Barnett
Try this quick quiz …
Hands up if you earned more than $47,000 gross last year in massage therapy income.
If you raised your hand, then you’re doing better than the 82% of massage therapists who responded to AMT’s workforce survey back in September 2017. Yep, you read that right – 82% of us earn less than $47,000 from massage.
It also means that 82% of massage therapists are earning less than the full-time minimum award wage under the Health Professionals and Support Award 2010. It’s pretty easy to forget that we have an Award when so few therapists are employed under it, but I am getting ahead of myself.
Based on AMT’s 2017 data, only 27% of us are earning more than the current full time minimum wage ($38,520). It’s a sobering statistic. (Before you get too depressed, I should probably point out that the minimum full-time award wage for a law graduate is only $51,766. Hardly enough to invest in a waterfront mansion in Point Piper while you’re paying your HECS debt.)
Hands up if you or your employer made superannuation contributions last financial year on your behalf.
If you answered yes, then you’re doing better than 57% of massage therapists who responded to AMT’s 2017 workforce survey. Yep, you read that right too: 57% of us appear to be making no provisions for superannuation. Based on this data, we’re facing a crisis, with an entire generation of massage therapists seemingly set to retire without any kind of safety net from super.
Hands up if you were employed under the Health Professionals Support Award 2010 last financial year.
Congratulations! You are part of only a tiny percentage of the massage therapy sector – 8.4%.
If you were employed full-time under the Award, you are the rarest of beasts: just under two percent of us have a full-time position, receiving holiday and personal leave, and all the other entitlements associated with the Award, including superannuation. Just over 2% are employed part-time and an (almost impressive) 4.5% of us are employed as casuals under the Award.
Now, you could argue that the statistics quoted above are not terribly representative, since they’re based on a small sample of only 479 respondents. But there’s plenty of other anecdotal evidence I can provide that suggests we’re in the midst of an epidemic of unstable or precarious employment and sham contracting. If the number of inquiries and calls we receive in AMT Head Office (from members and non-members alike) regarding employment contracts is anything to go by, there’s a mountain of exploitation going on. Somehow, AMT has become the go-to Association for bringing your employment woes.
Like other workers in the “gig economy”, many massage therapists are seduced by the false promise of flexibility and choice: they believe that they’re financially better off working as subcontractors, largely because the fee they earn per massage – essentially earning piece rates – is far higher than the hourly award rate. Compounding the narrative of self-determination and choice is the fact that there are hardly any actual jobs out there – if only 8.5% of us are employed under the Award, then there can’t be a lot of genuine employed positions being advertised on the myriad unfiltered social media sites, or RTO and association websites.
The rest of us then – the 91.5% not employed under the Award – are expected to flourish as entrepreneurs in one form or another, either working for ourselves as sole traders and contractors, or perhaps as a company/business engaging other massage therapists.
But are massage entrepreneurs really faring better than the wage earners due to our higher hourly earnings and acres of freedom and flexibility? Are people engaged in non-Award positions and contracts really earning more?
Let’s have a look at a case involving Brisbane City Thai Massage who were prosecuted by the Fair Work Ombudsman in the Federal Circuit Court last year (February 2018), Fair Work Ombudsman v Bishnu Laxmi Ganesha Trading Pty Ltd.
Over a three-month period, one massage therapist working in the business was underpaid $7708, which meant that she only earned 39% of what she was entitled to be paid. A second employee only earned 41% of what she was entitled to under the Award.
The judges ruling on the case notes:
… this company, over the three month paid, was saving itself, on average, 60 per cent of what it should have been paying to what it did actually pay. In other words, it was giving itself a huge advantage over its competitors.Fair Work Ombudsman v Bishnu Laxmi Ganesha Trading Pty Ltd & Ors  FCCA 487 (7 February 2018)
It also needs to be borne in mind that these two employees were vulnerable, having come here to the country on working visas. They are entitled to be protected under Australian workplace law and to not be taken advantage of in the way they have been by this company.
The “competitive advantage” enjoyed by the business ended up costing the company dearly. The judge ordered penalties to a sum of $120,225.
Let’s look at another massage therapy business that the FWO found to be underpaying workers. Between 15 January 2018 and 11 March 2018, King’s Day Spa and Massage underpaid 22 workers $39,830. That’s basically 20 grand a month!
From the FWO media release:
Inspectors found that workers were paid a percentage of each massage they provided to customers between 15 January 2018 and 11 March 2018, rather than the lawful minimum wage for each hour worked.FWO media release
This resulted in underpayment of the minimum weekly wage, overtime rates, casual loadings and penalty rates for weekend and public holiday work they were entitled to under the Health Professionals and Support Services Award 2010.
The company also failed to issue pay slips to employees, in breach of the Fair Work Act.
Hands up those of you who are paid a percentage of each massage you provide.
Those “flexible” work arrangements are starting to sound a bit less attractive, aren’t they?
If the inquiries to AMT Head Office about work contracts are any kind of indication, the FWO cases quoted above are probably the tip of the underpayment iceberg. It’s not unusual to hear stories of subcontractors sitting around at a clinic for six hours waiting for work and going home at the end of a “shift’ without a zac* to show for it. This is not OK. It’s not even lawful – where an award exists, a business can’t expect you to work for less than minimum rates in the Award. And remember – we do have an Award. In fact, as of 1 July 2019, we got a 3% pay rise.
Put your hands up if you’re getting paid a percentage of each massage you provide and you recently had a 3% increase in the percentage. Nah, didn’t think so.
Obviously, AMT is not in a position to provide legal advice to our members on contracts and employment conditions. We’re a professional association, not a union. However, what we can do is provide members with information and resources, which we try to do, principally via social media, email and phone support. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog, where I talk more specifically about distinguishing between subcontracting and being an employee, and a wee bit about superannuation.
*This means “nothing”, “bugger all”, “nada”, “zippo”, “zilch”, “worked for free today”.
Do the statistics in this article surprise or shock you? Or are they what you expected?
About the Author
As CEO of AMT, Rebecca Barnett cannot deny that her union roots run deep. Though she be but little, she is fiercely dedicated to massage therapists’ workplace rights.