Frances O'Grady takes a selfie with young union members on the stage at Congress 2016
Building a movement of young workers
The buzzword during TUC Congress this year is young workers: where they work, what they need, and how unions can help them.
What we do know is that young workers –those aged under 30 and usually outside of education– are more likely to be low paid and less likely to be in secure work. Their work is more casual, more exploitative and this age group is significantly less unionised.
So, how best can unions help young workers have a better experience of work? Ask our current young trade union members – we spoke to four of them at Congress to ask about their experiences…
Sophie, 28, Unite
“Working in hospitality can be really insecure. There are lots of young people and migrants. You can be especially vulnerable if you don’t know your rights. That’s why it’s important to know the union has got your back.
We recently ran a campaign on fair tipping. Waiting staff often have their tips stolen by their company from payments made by card. We were sick and tired of hearing about awful practices in the sector where it seemed obvious to us that front of house and kitchen staff should get the tips.
We focused on Pizza Express. We staged protests, got media interest and signed up the restaurant staff to the union. Customers started to ask where their money was going. Pizza Express dropped their so-called “admin fee” on card payments following our actions. So did the burger chain Giraffe. The government even published a report to promote fair tipping practices as a result of our campaign.
It showed me how much power we have. It highlighted the real benefits of trade unions to make serious, positive changes in people’s lives and be a force for good in society. I am definitely looking to get more active in my union and get better and better working terms and conditions for myself and others.”
Sean, 19, GMB
“I’m a care worker in the south of England. To be honest, I didn’t know much about unions before I joined. But care work involves a lot of rules and regulations, so I knew it would be good to get some advice and help. The GMB union are active where I work, and we were encouraged to get involved.
Because they’re the recognised union at work, they’ve been able to help me with my work, and make sure that I know my rights. They’ve helped out in work with legal stuff, contracts, health and safety, and pensions. I’ve encouraged others to join, because I know that if anything goes wrong at work, the union will have our back. The membership is growing and I’m excited to be a part of that.
Some people say that unions are out of date, or a thing of the past. A lot of people my age don’t know about unions, or don’t get involved. But when it comes to getting on in work, being protected, and moving up in your career; joining a union is one of the best things you can do. I’m glad I joined a union, and I’m proud to be a member of the GMB.”
Nicola, 28, Equity
“For the entertainment sector, low – or even no pay – is a huge issue. I’m an actress by profession, but I’m also an events manager, an office temp… whatever pays the bills. More and more jobs in my industry are casual and insecure. The only way to stand up to this is to organise and stand together. I see no better way to achieve this than within the trade union movement.
During the Fringe in Edinburgh this year, members were encouraged to tell the union when and where they were working unpaid. We visited casts, including many non-members, and expelled myths about pay. We made leaflets, wrote articles, tweeted, Facebooked, and spoke to the venues who were hosting productions. We wrote a “fringe contract” for venues to sign up to. It guaranteed decent conditions and at least the national minimum wage.
As of today, over 175 productions have signed up, meaning over 800 performers and stage managers have been paid at least the NMW. This means over £1million in wages.
I’ve got more confidence. I now no longer fear engaging with employers who don’t pay the minimum wage. I’ve learnt about being a freelancer, and I’ve met lots of people in the same situation.”
Chris, 24, Unite
“In the hotel where I work, we’re trying to get them to recognise our union. It’s good to be involved, because I know all of us at work will get better job security if the union’s recognised. I’m active in my union outside of the hotel, though.
I’ve been putting a lot of time into the successful Sports Direct shame campaign. We pushed them hard. We were on social media, outside their shops, and our #SportsDirectShame banner travelled the country.
Because of the campaigning, Sports Direct have dropped zero hours in their shops. There’s a lot more to do, but it shows that unions can make a massive difference. Thanks for our campaign, more people will have guaranteed hours at work – which means guaranteed pay.
Being involved in the union has helped my confidence and has shown me that it’s OK to make mistakes when building campaigns, as you learn from them. It is always important to try new ways of engaging people.
Campaigns like the one we’ve run are a great way to recruit younger members and show what unions can do to improve their lives. When you’re young, it’s all too easy to get shafted by your boss with low hours, no rights, and no security.”