Far too many young men and women are afraid to speak up in case their complaints come back to bite them. What can you do when you speak out about exploitation in your workplace and the salon turns against you? Our HSA Ambassador Liz did report her employer’s illegal behaviour, and when the situation got worse, took them to the Employment Tribunal – and won.

Liz was a 19-year-old apprentice in a salon with eight senior stylists and the owner. She was the youngest by far, was never paid superannuation and never received a break, even when she asked.

“They would forget about my lunch break,” she says. “Even if I wanted to take one, they would still get me to mix colours. They would never give me the time to have a break. It got to the point that I nearly collapsed.”

She also did almost no training for nine months, and the employer kept pushing back the start date with her academy. “I didn’t learn anything. I wasn’t even allowed to do braiding. I was the cleaner.”

The rest of the salon excluded her, which she felt particularly hard as a junior and a newcomer. “They would have meetings without me,” she recalls. “They’d sit on the couches and have massive talk sessions, and I wasn’t included, pop open a bottle of wine and not offer me any. I could definitely feel I wasn’t part of the team anymore.”

She confronted her boss about the lack of breaks, and was called into a meeting with the salon owner and a senior stylist. “They ganged up on me, said I would never be a good apprentice or hairdresser, that I chose the wrong career and shouldn’t be there, that I made everyone upset – all about how bad I was. She was just pulling me apart.”

“For someone new in that industry, you don’t have anywhere to go to. She was just fucked. What a terrible person.”

She called her apprenticeship support person, who organised the contract. “He said that out of her eight apprentices, not one had stayed with her.”

As soon as she lodged a complaint with her training advocate, the owner called, demanding to know what was happening. “I explained to her that she was making me stressed, and I needed to take a mental health day,” Liz says. “She said to me, ‘I have a business to run, and I don’t have time for your shit. I think it’s time you left,’ and she hung up.”

Liz called the trainer and agreed she wouldn’t go back. “I thought, ‘well, now that I’ve been sacked and I’m stressed, I’ll go do something relaxing’,” she remembers, “so I got my lashes done.”

Her employer followed her, and approached her at the beauty salon while her eyes were wrapped for treatment. “She comes into the lash place and says, ‘Hi Liz, it’s me. I’m taking a photo of you as evidence.”

Being followed and photographed without her consent was more than Liz could take. She wanted justice, and to make sure the owner couldn’t do this to her next apprentice.

Liz arranged to go to the tribunal but lacked advice and support. “When you start your apprenticeship, they don’t tell you about the union. I tried to do some research, and I’m like who do you call in that situation?”

“And I found you guys on Google and was like, ‘Oh my God!’ It’s literally like a get out of jail free card. You don’t understand, it’s just amazing.”

With the help of HSA, Liz took the salon owner to the Employment Tribunal in South Australia – and won. Her superannuation was paid back in full and was able to formally terminate her apprenticeship contract with the salon and complete her training elsewhere.

The woman who was supposed to be her mentor ended up terrorising her. “That was the end – that’s what it felt like,” Liz says. “It just changed me, especially when you have to go through all that shit, getting told multiple times you’d chosen the wrong career. I loved hairdressing.”

But she knew her former employer was wrong, and she didn’t give up. Liz became a qualified beauty therapist and lash technician, and now runs her own brow and lash bar in a small salon, called Gorgeous Lashes by Liz. She’s part of a small, upbeat team and loves coming to work each day and being part of the hair and beauty industry.

Her advice to apprentices who love their job but are struggling at work is to speak out and make a change. “Definitely look into talking to someone about it – someone like HSA. Don’t sit there and take it on. Get out of there, because it’s just going to wreck your career.”

“You still love your environment, so don’t give up.”