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Young workers

Are you a young worker?

You are classed as a young worker if you are in full- or part-time employment and under the age of 18, but over the minimum school-leaving age (which is currently defined as the last Friday in June of the academic year of your 16th birthday).

In UNISON you are a young member if you are aged 30 or under.

Find out more about how young members are organised

Rights of young workers

As a young worker you have most of the rights of adult workers, including:

  • a written document detailing your terms and conditions;
  • training and supervision to make sure you can work safely;
  • unpaid leave for family emergencies involving dependants;
  • freedom from discrimination on the grounds of race, age, religion, disability, gender, pregnancy or maternity, marital status, sexual orientation, gender reassignment and ethnic origin;
  • protection from dismissal on the grounds that you are claiming your rights;
    the right to join a trade union and take part in trade union activities.

As well as this, as a young worker you should:

  • be allowed a minimum of 12 hours’ rest in every 24-hour period, and have at least two consecutive days off in every seven-day period;
  • be allowed a 30-minute break where the daily working time is more than 4.5 hours;
  • not normally work for more than 8 hours in one day or 40 hours in one week;
    never work between 12 midnight and 4am.

In addition, you should not be allowed to operate certain types of machinery such as welders or forklift trucks unless you have the necessary maturity and competence or in certain training situations where you are properly supervised and where any risks is reduced to the lowest level that is reasonably practicable.

Common problems for young workers

Young workers are particularly vulnerable to:

negligence by their employer;
physical stress;
emotional stress.
If you are a young worker and are suffering from any of the above, contact your UNISON representative immediately. Your rep can help you deal with these issues in the most appropriate manner.

Wage information

You are entitled to the following rates of pay, depending on your age:

  • £3.50 an hour for apprentices under 19 or 19 or over in the first year of the apprenticeship;
  • £4.05 an hour if you are 16-17 years old;
  • £5.60 an hour if you are 18-20;
  • £7.05 an hour if you are 21-24;
  • £7.50 an hour if you are over 25.

Regardless of your age, your employer will still deduct tax if you earn £149 or more a week.

National insurance contributions will also be deducted if you earn £107 or more per week and are not under 16 when the payment is made.

Bullying and harassment in the workplace

Workplace bullying and harassment are two of the most common problems encountered by young workers. These two issues are defined as:

  • bullying: offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour that humiliates, denigrates or creates a hostile environment for an employee or employee;
  • harassment: unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of employees or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

If you feel like you are being bullied or harassed because of your age then this is a key factor in determining whether or not you are being bullied or harassed, regardless of whether the other party (or parties) thinks it is acting innocently.

If you have issues with any age-related bullying or harassment in the workplace, contact your UNISON rep. You should also keep a record of any incidents, including times and dates.

Find out more about age discrimination and bullying and harassment.

Work experience

There are strict limits on the amount of work children below the minimum school-leaving age can undertake, with an absolute limit on the employment of children below the age of 14. The 1996 Education Act (in Northern Ireland the Employment of Children Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1996) provides exceptions to this to allow children below the minimum school-leaving age but in the last two years of their compulsory schooling to take part in work experience activities.

Regardless of age, those on work experience have the same rights as any young worker. If you have any problems or issues during your work experience that are not resolved by either your educational body or your employer, contact your UNISON rep for advice.


Young workers

  • Can my employer make deductions from my wages?

    Apart from tax and National Insurance contributions, your employer is not allowed to make any deductions from your wages (for till shortages or breakages, for example) unless it has been discussed and written into your contract of employment or you have previously agreed to it in writing. Any deductions must be itemised on your payslip.

  • How can I stop a bully?

    Keep a record of any incidents, including times and dates. Speak to your employer in the first instance. If they cannot help, contact your local UNISON rep for advice.

  • Should I be expected to perform the same as an adult worker?

    No. Some tasks are unsuitable for young workers. If you feel that you are being put in danger by any task, speak to your employer. If the issue is not resolved, contact your local UNISON rep.

  • Should I receive sick pay as a young worker?

    Yes. You are entitled to statutory sick pay if you are ill for four days in a row (including non-working days). This is the case even if you are aged under 16.