THE BLOG

Eleven Reasons Young People Need to Fight to Avoid Being Shafted in the Workplace

01/03/2016 17:09 GMT | Updated 02/03/2017 10:12 GMT
CARL COURT via Getty Images

Young people in the UK aren't getting a fair deal and we need to do something about it. We can't trust the current government to protect our future, so the trade union movement offers the best opportunity to fight for the basic rights all workers deserve - but young people are particularly likely to lack.

1. We're the first generation in over a century on track to be be poorer than our parents

Even though we're better qualified than ever before, it's predicted that people born after 1980 will be poorer than older generations for the whole of our lives. This is a reversal of the trend of the last hundred years, during which time every generation was wealthier than the previous one.

2. We're not lazy, feckless or over-entitled

It's sometimes claimed that young people deserve to be paid badly because we don't work as hard. In reality, there's every reason to believe that the opposite is true. Young office workers report working an average of seven hours and 22 minutes overtime every week. That's two hours more than over 55s.

We want fair treatment, not special privileges.

3. Many of us can't get the hours we need to pay our rent and bills

When young people do work fewer hours it's often not out of choice. One in five 16-24s in the UK are underemployed - meaning they'd like to work more hours but aren't offered them by their employer. Frequently, a part-time wage isn't enough to cover basic living costs.

4. We don't know if we'll earn the money we need from one week to the next

People aged 16-24 are three times as likely to be on zero hour contracts in comparison with older workers. Often, this means not knowing in advance if you're going to be able to earn enough for the week or month.

5. We're struggling to survive never mind save for the future

Saving money is an impossible dream when many of us are struggling to scrape together enough just for rent, food, transport and utilities.

Low wages and insecure employment are part of the reason why almost half of 18-25 year olds have debts other than student loans. A recent report found that 38% of us have overdrafts and 31% owe money on credit cards.

6. We're more likely to suffer anxiety that keeps us awake at night

Medical professionals recognise job insecurity, financial struggle and debt can cause mental health problems. Is it any wonder, then, that young people are more likely to suffer from anxiety than ever before?

One in five 16-24s report experiencing high levels of anxiety.

7. We're often expected to work for free just to get a foot in the door

Many unemployed young people are being forced to complete unpaid workfare schemes just to receive jobseekers allowance of £57.90 a week. If they were paid at least minimum wage for the hours worked they would earn £201, or £159 for 18-20 year olds.

Also, increasing numbers of employers are asking young workers to do unpaid internships. These positions sometimes replace paid entry level roles and may be illegal.

7. We're less likely to be a member of a trade union than older workers

It's no coincidence that young workers are the least likely to be trade union members. Research has found that trade union members are better paid and enjoy better working conditions, on average, than other workers.

8. We're also particularly likely to work in the least unionised industries

Young people are disproportionately likely to be working in industries like retail and hospitality, where most workplaces aren't unionised.

Trade unions can achieve the most in workplaces where they're supported by at least 50% of staff. This means the union has a legal right to negotiate with the employer for better working conditions and wages.

10. Trade unions really can make a difference for young workers

Even if your employer doesn't recognise a trade union, you could still benefit from joining one. If you are being bullied, harassed or discriminated against at work, or if you undergo a disciplinary procedure, unions can offer legal advice and support - even representing you at tribunal if necessary.

The benefits can be even greater if your workplace is officially unionised. In 2013, staff at Hovis in Wigan went on strike against zero-hours work in their factory. They won a landmark victory and Hovis agreed to treat any worker with more than 12 weeks service equally to full-time employees.

11. If we don't fight for our rights, who will?

The Conservative government is trying to pass a Trade Union Bill that will limit, among other things, the right to strike. If it's successful, it will be much harder for workers to fight for fair treatment in the future.

Many of the employment rights we now take for granted - things like health and safety protections and legal entitlement to breaks - were secured through hard-fought battles by trade unions and their members.

It's up to young workers to act together to resist new forms of exploitation. And the first step for many is to pick a side by joining the trade union that's most relevant to your job or industry.

Get started now with this union search tool: tuc.org.uk/join-union