Blog: This is a critical young workers’ month

Jess McGuire, the chair of UNISON’s young members’ forum, says that the pandemic makes this year’s young workers’ month more important than ever

November is young workers’ month and this year, more than ever, we all need to celebrate our young workers.

Young workers have been on the frontline of this pandemic, but apart from the health risks, we are also worried about the economic and social impacts of the virus on us in the years to come.

Many young members are worried about job security. We are more likely to be in lower-paid jobs, on zero-hour contracts and not have been in employment for as long as many of our colleagues – with possibly weaker redundancy rights.

With working from home due to COVID-19 becoming the new normal for many, what does this mean for young members when companies look at making further cost savings?

We don’t want young members to pay the price of the pandemic and unions now need to organise more than ever to protect young workers’ jobs and conditions.

As the country entered a second lockdown, my friends in the hospitality sector were particularly worried about their jobs, wondering what this means for them.

We need to make sure that young people know their employment rights and what they can do if this situation occurs.

Looking ahead at our working lives, we are also worried that opportunities for development will be hampered, especially if there are significant job losses.

Apprenticeships may be paused or access to education, mentors, professional development and graduate schemes may be restricted or withdrawn.

We need to ensure that this does not happen and that the post-COVID future is one where young workers can expect high-quality jobs with development and training opportunities.

UNISON’s national young members’ forum has previously made mental health one of our key priorities and this will be taken forward in 2021 too – young people tell us that mental health issues are one of their biggest concerns, and we know that this will only have increased during the pandemic.

Alongside this we also need to physically protect our young workers as they continue to work during the pandemic – both from home and on the front line in our schools, care homes and hospitals – by ensuring employers provide adequate PPE supplies and that unions are fighting for health and safety in the workplace.

A close friend of mine has been working as a student nurse on the frontline, treating COVID patients during the pandemic, and was told to re-use PPE for her entire night shift.

On top of this, there is the huge mental impact of seeing the effects of COVID-19 first hand, with little support from the employer.

This simply isn’t good enough. Young people deserve better.

During young workers’ month we are asking UNISON’s young members for their experiences of the pandemic.

We also have a programme planned of online events – sign up here to join.