Young workers: ‘You need us and we need you’

Young members talk about their concerns, their hopes and their achievements at national delegate conference

This is UNISON’s Year of the Young Worker and conference heard that there has never been more of a need for young people to join a trade union.

With zero hour contracts, poverty, low pay, insecure housing and massive student debt – the challenges facing young people are huge.

Evidence shows that being a member of a trade union has huge benefits, with workers in the public sector earning 8% more if they are in a trade union and  unionised young workers earning up to 39% more.

The problem though, is that many young workers are not aware of trade unions, of their benefits or how to get involved.

At conference, a stream of young members – many of them first time speakers – took to the podium to express their anger that they are not currently entitled to paid facility time for union activities and to demonstrate their commitment to social justice.

Sarah Walsh said: “Facility time is the bedrock of trade union organisation. It ensures members get the right support at their most stressful time.

“We know facility time is under pressure, but it is the statutory right of reps to carry out trade union activities in the workplace and this should be extended to young workers and equality reps.”

Jamie Golbert from East Midlands Young Members’ Forum added: “With young members, anything other than formal meetings with human resources or management is not recognised.

“This makes it difficult for young workers to get started as activists and can lead to burn out. Employers are using facility time as a bargaining chip. It should be our right.”

A speaker from the Young Members’ Forum said: At a time when Black workers are facing increased harassment at work and discrimination is on the rise, equality reps need paid facility time.

“Research shows that when women’s officers organise, women feel empowered. When Black members have time and space to organise, we challenge racism, and where our young workers fight, they receive quality training and progress. Otherwise there’ll be an erosion of rights and a race to the bottom on pay and conditions.”

Shipa Begum added: “Young black members are the most under represented of all groups here today. We need to think about how we can recruit young black activists. Young black workers have suffered work casualization and cuts to benefits. Young workers need unions and unions need young workers.”

And a speaker from Eastern region said: “We’re using the Year of the Young Worker to plan activities across the union to recruit and encourage activism. We’ve produced videos, postcards, posters to explain to young workers who we are and how to get involved. In August, we’re holding a Unity Festival for young members with music and entertainment, which is really exciting and is attracting a lot of interest.”

A Young Workers’ Forum representative pointed out that only 2% of activists are young workers: “Young members need to be given the tools, support and mentored to get involved.

“The creation of a mentoring scheme working with the Young Workers’ Forum and the regions could be the start of a lasting legacy for the future.”

Nick Hillman from Poole branch shared his experience of running training for young workers: “We ran a training group for all apprentices – one on mental health and one on well-being.

“Young people from all walks of life came along. They spoke to a counsellor for two hours and this, in turn, led to new members joining UNISON. But we need to turn these new members into activists. One member did attend a training event where he was treated as an adult and asked for his views. His confidence has grown and he’s taken on more responsibility and come up with ideas.”

Andrew Baker from Northern region added: “We have to show young people that we believe in them, before they will believe in us.”

And Janie Corm from Northern Ireland said: “I was on a temporary contract for four years. I’ve been a member of UNISON now for five years. I was encouraged by UNISON to put my name forward as a steward. We organised a campaign challenging youth poverty and I’m about to do my first disciplinary.”